Hearing in Indian peafowl (Pavo cristatus): sensitivity to infrasound

J Comp Physiol A Neuroethol Sens Neural Behav Physiol. 2020 Nov;206(6):899-906. doi: 10.1007/s00359-020-01446-2. Epub 2020 Oct 6.


Despite the excitement that followed the report of infrasound sensitivity in pigeons 40 years ago, there has been limited followup, with only eleven species of birds having auditory thresholds at frequencies below 250 Hz. With such sparse data on low-frequency hearing, there is little understanding of why some birds hear very low frequencies while others do not. To begin to expand the phylogenetic and ecological sample of low-frequency hearing in birds, we determined the behavioral audiogram of the Indian peafowl, Pavo cristatus. Peafowl are thought to use low frequencies generated by the males' tail feathers and wing flutters during courtship displays, and their crest feathers are reported to resonate at infrasound frequencies. The peafowl were able to respond to frequencies as low as 4 Hz, and their hearing range at 60 dB SPL extended from 29 Hz to 7.065 kHz (7.9 octaves). Removing the crest feathers reduced sensitivity at their resonant frequencies by as much as 7.5 dB, indicating a modest contribution to detectability in that range. However, perforation of the tympanic membranes severely reduced sensitivity to low frequencies, indicating that sensitivity to low frequencies is mediated primarily by the ears and cannot be attributed to some other sensory modality.

Keywords: Animal psychophysics; Bird hearing; Infrasound; Operant conditioning; Vibrotactile detection.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods*
  • Animals
  • Auditory Threshold
  • Feathers / physiology*
  • Galliformes / physiology*
  • Hearing / physiology*
  • Phylogeny