By Jon Herskovitz
AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - The size and width of a peacock's proud plumage attracts the gaze of males likely sizing up rivals and of females potentially looking for mates, a survey released on Wednesday showed.
For the study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, researchers at Texas A&M University fitted peacocks and peahens with headgear that tracked their eye movements and monitored what the birds were gazing at when they looked at members of their group.
"We found that they are mostly looking at the lower portion of each other’s displays in a similar way that the peahens were assessing the males as mating partners," said Jessica Yorzinski, an assistant professor at Texas A&M University specializing in evolutionary biology.
The study said peacocks spent about a third of their time gazing at the feather displays of their rivals. "They allocated less than 5 percent of their time during our sample periods gazing at females," the study said.
Both males and females mostly looked at the bottom portion of the displays, likely assessing the width of the trains, which positively correlates with the length of the train, the study said.
Yorzinski said that previous research indicated males with longer trains are more successful in establishing territory and gaining mates.
"This work further supports that by showing the birds are looking at those traits and assessing the length and the width by scanning back and forth along the lower portion of the train," she said in a telephone interview.
Yorzinski added that one of the most difficult parts of the research was trying to strap the little helmet with the eye tracking monitors onto the birds.
(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz)