1 The story began last September with the hatching of the peachicks in an incubator at our friend Ilene's home on Long Island. Even before they peck their way out of their shells, the chicks make a faint chirping sound that you can hear if you hold the egg up to your ear.
2 The little guy - or gal - is struggling to escape the confines of the shell. Afterwards it's hard to imagine how that creature could ever have fit inside such a tiny space!
3 Just a few hours after birth, the peachick is sitting upright, taking in the sights and sounds of the world. It's strange to think that this tiny thing will grow up to be one of the largest flying birds on earth and could weigh as much as 13 pounds.
4 I love the ethereal lighting in this shot. All the peachicks have the same deep black bottomless eyes.
5 Another view of a sweet young peachick.
6 In this shot you can clearly see that three of the birds we received have traditional male coloring, and one is much lighter. The darker birds are male, but the sex of the lighter bird is questionable. It could either be a female or an albino male - we are not sure. When they are young, the only way to be sure is to take a blood test.
7 This view shows how the feathers have started to align in the back to create an intricate repeating pattern.
8 Here they are enjoying some fresh water and sunshine.
9 The feathers and coloring on this peachick are typical for a male his age. It takes three years for peafowl to fully mature and develop their adult plumage.
10 In the next part of our story, the peachicks have made the journey from Long Island to my Bedford farm. At first we kept them in a large cage indoors. Then we constructed the special enclosure that you see here, located in the corner of a paddock next to my stables.
11 This structure used to be a home for sheep - now it's the peacock palace.
12 Inside it's actually quite roomy.
During the day the peafowl stay outdoors, but at night they go in, where a heat lamp keeps it toasty even on the coldest days. The cold weather doesn't seem to bother them, but when it's snowy they don't venture out much.
13 The grounds crew provides for their daily care. They feed the peachicks and give them fresh water twice a day, in the morning and late afternoon. Once a week they clean out the enclosure. The average lifespan of a peacock in the wild is 20 years. I hope mine live at least that long, in excellent heath.
14 The birds get a healthy mix of cornmeal, soybean, and wheat, which comes from Poulin Grain, a Vermont-based feed company. We purchase all our grains from Bennie's Feed Barn in Bedford Hills. We also feed the birds spinach, cabbage, and squash from my garden. In the wild, peacocks are omnivores - they eat insects, plants, and small creatures.
15 Another shot of the feed - I think it looks like Grape-Nuts.
16 A few weeks later and you can see the plumage has really started to fill in. Also note the elegant crest at the top of this bird's head. Normally their neck feathers are flattened against the body, but at times the feathers puff up.
17 This bird is stretching its wings.
18 A closer look at that patterned plumage. Do you see a slight tinge of green in the feathers at the top?
19 Now the green has really started to emerge. It's fascinating to see the colors changing right before our eyes!
20 A closer look shows the beginnings of iridescence - even in the tiny feathers in the crest.
21 The feathers are overlapping and imbricated, like tiles or shingles on a pitched roof.
22 I love the rich palette - the aquamarine, teal, and cobalt blue.
23 Here's our mystery bird, getting older. We still don't know the gender, but we have some clues.
24 Do you see that ring of green feathers at the base of the neck? That suggests this one is a male, maybe an albino.
25 Silhouetted by the sun.
26 What a funny look on this bird's face. Maybe indigestion? Or a wee bit cranky?
27 A nibble of greens from my garden.
28 Phurba and Pete extend soothing hands.
29 Again, you can see a slight green iridescence poking out from the white and tan feathers.
30 Now we are looking at Ilene's fully mature birds, both males. Mine may look like this one day. You can see that both these birds have lost their long flowing tail feathers. Toward the end of summer, peacocks shed them in a process called molting. Then in about seven months - in time for the peafowl mating season to come back around - they regrow their plumes even longer and fuller.
31 Three of Ilene's birds in their beautiful home - one an Indian blue, one a male albino, and the third a female. A group of peafowl is called a pride or party.
32 What an amazing creature! This is the albino - his tail feathers are completely white, and his neck is a cobalt blue. I love the lacy white train, like the back of a couture ball gown or a wedding dress.
33 As the peacock moves, the feathers shimmer in the sunlight.
34 You can see the teal-colored eyespots best when the peacock fans its tail. It's a stunning, hypnotic sight.