Peacocks fan their spectacular tails to attract potential mates. The lady peacock—properly called a “peahen”—considers many factors, including color, pattern, the number of “eyespots” and, yes, size. And no, that’s not just a myth spread by insecure peacocks. But it may be a myth spread by insecure birdwatchers.
Don’t ask me why I woke up thinking about peacock tails, but I did. It drove me to the Google, which took me on a colorful Story Safari™. I haven’t written about Story Safari for a while, so I’ll do a quick refresher.
I’m always on the lookout for stories and anecdotes I can use in my work. And when I say “always,” I mean always. I haven’t been a speechwriter my whole life but I have been inclined to see the world in terms of metaphor for as long as I can remember. When the writers in my class asked me how they can learn this skill, I told them just keep your eyes open. Look at the situations you encounter from a number of different angles and be alert for opportunities to use them.
So, peacock tails. This website tells us:
“Bigger isn’t always better, as far as peahens are concerned. While females typically choose males that have bigger, healthier plumage with an abundance of eyespots, they also may reject males with too much of a good thing. Tails that are too big or too flashy may be burdensome for these ground-dwelling birds, and once a peacock’s plumage crosses a certain threshold, it can drive potential mates toward more modest males.”
And while rich people in the Middle Ages went to great lengths to serve roasted peacock at their banquets—they’d pluck the bird before cooking and then reassemble the feathers so it looked “lifelike” on the serving dish…I’m turning into a vegetarian just thinking about it. But apparently no amount of presentation skill could make the bird taste even halfway decent.
Story Safari—The Tale of the Peacock
So what can we learn from our friend the peacock? That sometimes you can be too flashy.
That what might appear to be an asset can actually be a liability: Take a look at the video clip below and see how insecure the peacock looks, strutting about on its tiny legs, trying to maintain his balance with his fanned tail pitched forward. He looks like a Las Vegas chorus girl on her first day of dress rehearsal. And six feet of tail does nothing to enhance his flying abilities.
And there’s more to the peacock than meets the eye. While he displays his plumage you’ll see him shaking his tailfeathers like the proverbial Polaroid picture. That’s not just for show; the feathers produce a low sound that’s inaudible to humans but drives the hens wild. Allegedly. None of the hens in this video seem particularly impressed.
Finally, you can’t always believe what a peacock tells you. They’re notoriously good liars; just ask any peahen. Warning: Turn down the volume before you play this clip. It contains a couple of examples of the peacock’s “copulatory call”—just as fake as the one in When Harry Met Sally‘s “I’ll have what she’s having” scene—and apparently it brings all the peahens to the yard. Go figure.