Bird Plumage: Evolutionary Significance of Bird Colors

Bird Plumage: Evolutionary Significance of Bird Colors

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I think that birds are among some of the most beautiful creatures on the planet. What’s truly special about them is the diversity in terms of their appearance. From birds with camouflage plumage to those with bright, striking feathers, these animals come in a variety of beautiful colors.

But what’s the significance of bird plumage colors? Is it just a haphazard lottery as to which species get the brightest hues, or does their appearance run much deeper?

How do Bird Feathers Get Their Color?

Many birds are born without their colorful plumage and instead have downy feathers that serve as insulation while they’re in the nest. But as they grow, their first feathers molt, and they grow their adult plumage. But what determines the color?


Just like human skin, bird feathers have pigment cells and these are what determine which color the feathers will be. In humans, the more melanin a person has, the darker their skin will be. When it comes to birds, it’s more about the distribution of melanin that determines the color of the feathers. The higher the concentration of melanin in any given area of the plumage, the darker, and more intense the color will be.

Melanin pigments, of which there are two types, produce darker colors and more earthy tones and is a naturally occurring pigment that the bird makes itself. Eumelanin is responsible for brown and black hues while pheomelanin is what creates yellow and red plumage.

It’s also possible for melanin to be combined with other pigments such as carotenoids. Carotenoids are not naturally occurring and are actually obtained from the diet of the bird. One of the best examples of this is the flamingo which is born with brown feathers but, owing to the carotenoids in the algae and brine shrimp they eat, their feathers get that iconic pink hue.

Derived from plants, carotenoids can either be ingested through eating vegetation or by consuming animals and insects that have fed on the carotenoid-containing plants. By and large, these pigments are responsible for making red, orange, and yellow shades. These colors are important as, for many species, their plumage plays a part in attracting a mate.

The final type of pigment cells that are responsible for the color of birds’ plumage are porphyrins which are able to make a whole host of colors but must be blended with amino acids which they then modify.  These pigments have a unique trait not seen in melanins or carotenoids in that they produce a fluorescent red color when they are exposed to UV light.

You may notice that some birds, like the peacock, for example, have iridescent feathers. This occurs when there are high concentrations of melanin cells on the barbules which reflect light. Birds that do not have iridescent feathers may appear to have a more uniform appearance in terms of coloration.

Now the way in which pigments are expressed in any given individual can be down to genetics, with certain species having evolved color patterns over millions of years which are beneficial to their survival within their environment. Of course, elements within the environment can also play a role in the coloration of a bird. For example, when exposed to the sun, feathers can lose their intensity and brightness. By looking at the color of a bird’s plumage, we can determine the health of the bird. Those that are less healthy or that don’t have access to the best nutrition may be less vibrantly colored than healthy individuals.

Moreover, we have to consider that the color of the feathers can be impacted by life stages. As I mentioned earlier, the flamingo doesn’t get its pink plumage until it is older and has consumed enough algae and brine shrimp for the pigments to enter its system. With some species, regular molts may occur, changing the color of the feathers, especially once the bird reaches sexual maturity.


While pigment cells play a significant role in determining the color of a bird’s plumage, the structure of the feathers also impacts this. To the naked eye, feathers appear to be made from individual strands but the structure goes much deeper, even to a microscopic level.

The microscopic structure of a feather, such as the nanostructures of keratin particles of the blue jay’s plumage, is responsible for how the feathers reflect light. The way that these structures are arranged, along with the presence of melanin pigments could mean that the bird has iridescent or even ultraviolet feathers. What’s more, these nanostructures have been observed under X-rays and could serve as inspiration for new photonic devices, demonstrating how, once again, nature inspires human technology.  Even the arrangement of pigments within the feather structure can impact the overall color with higher concentrations resulting in a deeper, richer color.

One of the most fascinating bird colors is blue as this isn’t a pigment that can be obtained naturally or via the bird’s diet. But clearly there are many bird species with blue feathers although this is seemingly a trick of the light. It’s all to do with how keratin molecules separate within the cells and create air pockets where white light cancels out red and yellow waves while the blue ones are amplified.

Where birds have iridescent feathers, this is because of the way that the microscopic structures interact with light; primarily how light is refracted. The intricacy of the nanostructures of these birds’ feathers is so complex that humans are only just beginning to understand it.  When you look at these birds, you will notice how the colors appear very vibrant and may even seem to change depending on what angle you’re observing the bird from. As light hits the feathers, they act like a prism, sending waves in various directions.  One of the best examples of this is the throat feathers on the hummingbird.

There are even some birds that have feathers that are able to reflect ultraviolet light. While humans cannot see UV light with the naked eye, birds can so this comes in handy when trying to communicate.

Over time, feathers go through wear and tear which can affect their structure, causing color to change over time. Where humans may lose their hair or go gray as we age, birds tend to lose their vibrancy and brightness.


One of the primary reasons for bird coloration is camouflage. Many birds are prey species and being able to blend into their surroundings means a greater chance of survival against predation. Many birds have evolved over time to adapt to their surroundings and this has meant changes to their coloration, according to the environment in which they live. 

One of the most common forms of camouflage is crysis which means that the bird looks like the background of its environment. This has meant that species have evolved colors that are in line with the foliage, rocks, snow, or terrain. The effectiveness of camouflage is evident with natural selection favoring birds that are more easily able to blend in; this gives them a greater chance of survival and of going on to reproduce equally camouflaged offspring.

What’s fascinating about camouflage is that, while some species have evolved to simply blend in, others have adapted to an ever-changing environment. Many Arctic species will change color in winter from brown to white. In summer, their brown plumage allows them to blend in with the trees while in winter, white feathers keep them concealed against the snowy backdrop.

There are even birds whose feather coloration makes them harder to spot in their habitat. This is down to a phenomenon called disruptive camouflage. Rather than making the whole bird blend in, the outline of the bird’s silhouette features contrasting colors that almost make its shape invisible to a predator.

You may also notice that many birds have different colored upper and lower parts. This is known as countershading and enables the bird to remain as inconspicuous as possible regardless of which angle you view it from.

And it’s not just a bird’s colors that help it to blend in. Scientists have been studying the behavior of several species to determine whether they know that they blend in. It appears that they do with individuals adapting their behavior to ensure the best camouflage such as where they lay their eggs and where they rest.

Common Potoo (Nyctibius griseus)

With large, highly reflective eyes, you might think that the common potoo has no chance of blending in. It’s true that their eyes do help to protect them as they can mimic the eyes of a predator but their plumage makes them one of the best masters of camouflage in nature which is why they’re sometimes referred to as ghost birds.

Common potoos use cryptic coloration to effortlessly blend into their surroundings. They’re so convincing that people (and predators) often mistake them for a branch! Being nocturnal, these birds don’t need to find a hideout for the day. They boldly perch in the trees with their eyes closed, beaks pointing upwards and their bodies stretched out, looking very much like a natural extension of the tree.

With mottled brown and gray plumage, they’re very similar in appearance to bark which is perfect for getting a good day’s rest in the tropical forests of Central and South America where they are found. What’s more, the edges of the feathers even appear to have lichen growing on them, just like the tree branches, but it’s all an illusion.

Even when the bird is hunting for insects and invertebrates, it will sit motionless on a branch with its eyes open waiting for its next meal to pass by. No matter where they’ve chosen to sit, potoos are known to adjust their stance to best match the stump or tree they’re perching on.

Eastern Screech Owl (Megascops asio)

Found in wooded habitats across the eastern parts of North America, the eastern screech owl is a small raptor that’s not easy to spot in the trees. Roosting in tree hollows and cavities during the day, the gray-to-brown plumage allows these birds to blend in seamlessly. That said, there are examples of red morphs that are much more noticeable. 

Around the facial disk, there are feathers that create intricate patterns, further allowing the bird to blend in thanks to their remarkably similar appearance to tree bark. Just like the potoo, when the eastern screech owl is sitting perfectly still in its tree, it’s all but undetectable. This is beneficial both in remaining concealed from threats, but also for spotting prey without being noticed. That said, being a nocturnal hunter, this species mainly hunts at night.

While eastern screech owls are mainly found in wooded areas, they have adapted very well to urbanization and are sometimes found in manmade cavities and nest boxes.

You might think that being a raptor, the eastern screech owl wouldn’t have many predators. However, mink and opossums are known to raid nests so this camouflage adaptation is essential to the survival of the species.

Emperor Penguin (Aptenodytes forsteri)

The emperor penguin is one of the most iconic birds on the planet and one of the most easily identifiable. That’s largely because of its plumage but this distinct black and white coloration isn’t just for show.

Emperor penguins use countershading which allows them to blend in both when in the sea. These birds dive to depths of up to 1,640 feet (500 meters) and can stay submerged for around 27 minutes while they hunt for fish. But while they’re down there, they are at risk of predation so their unique coloration helps them to blend in.

View them from above and the black feathers (which are hydrophobic) help them to blend in with the dark depths. But look at them from underneath, like a leopard seal or orca might, and the lighter feathers on the breast help them to blend in with the light from above.

These colors help them to blend into the Antarctic environment in which they are found and since emperor penguins are known to huddle in large groups to conserve heat, this mass of black and white can lead to confusion to potential predators. What’s more, those black dorsal feathers absorb heat from the sun, further allowing the penguin to stay warm in its icy home.

Willow Ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus)

The willow ptarmigan is an Arctic species that can be found both on the tundra and in open spaces and areas with low shrubs. This is a fascinating example of camouflage that adapts to the seasons, keeping the bird safe, regardless of the weather. 

It’s a form of cryptic coloration but since the Arctic landscape changes so much between summer and winter, it’s essential that the willow ptarmigan can adapt to it. Each season, these birds will go through a molt, with their new feathers coming in a different color according to the time of year. 

In summer, the willow ptarmigan boasts a range of red to brown feathers that are perfect at keeping it concealed in the shrubs and other foliage. However, when winter comes around, their feathers become a brilliant white color and this allows them to blend in with the snow. Some individuals have even been observed burrowing into the snow for further concealment.

The willow ptarmigan builds its nest on the ground to maximize its camouflage and this ensures greater protection for the offspring.

Mate Attraction & Reproductive Success

If you thought that your latest Tinder date went all out to impress you, wait until you hear about how many male birds woo their potential mates. Feathers and coloration play a very significant role in bird courtship and you’ll notice that males are often more brightly colored than their female counterparts. That’s because it’s typically the boys who do all the hard work when it comes to bird dating, showing off their colors and patterns to attract the attention of a mate. 

As I mentioned earlier, the brighter and more vibrant a bird’s plumage, the healthier it is likely to be. This is important for females as the last thing they want is to have to mate with a male whose offspring might not make it past hatching. Plus, since genetics play an important role in coloration, males with brighter, more intense plumage are likelier to produce strong young and provide food for them.

Bird plumage not only comes in bright colors but may also feature interesting patterns and designs that are intended to catch the attention of a female. Males will put on impressive displays that involve dances, movements, and poses that best show off their colorful plumage. With birds that have UV feathers, the females, who are able to see these lightwaves see this as another sign that the individual male is a good choice for a mate. What’s more, these UV patterns may not only be seen on the feathers but on other parts of the body like the legs or beak.

However, being brightly colored might be ideal for attracting a mate but this does pose a level of difficulty for male birds when it comes to staying safe from predators. It’s something of a trade-off to be able to reproduce but comes at the cost of being more visible to threats.

Of course, the varying colors of different birds allows other members of the same species to correctly identify them meaning that there is no risk of mating with another species which would prove to be unsuccessful.

Indian Peafowl (Pavo cristatus)

Most people simply refer to these birds as peacocks but that’s the name for the male of the species which is famed for its enormous, elaborately designed tail. Equipped with iridescent feathers and striking colors, the male peafowl really knows how to strut his stuff when it comes to attracting a mate.

And it pays to be arrogant about it because the female peafowl, known as the peahen, is very picky when it comes to choosing a mate. She will scrutinize the courtship ritual of a male, looking at his tail feathers in terms of length, color, and size to determine how healthy and genetically viable he is. If she chooses correctly, the male’s strong genetic traits will be passed down to her own offspring.

The male peafowl’s tail remains lowered and closed until he is ready to show off to a female when he’ll lift and fan out his tail that has eyespots which are not only useful in courtship rituals but also these, along with the sheer size of the tail can act as a deterrent for predators. Once the tail is fanned out, the male peafowl will shake it to create a rustling sound and will perform a dance to further enhance his chances. They’re even known to align their mating rituals with the sun to show off their iridescent feathers.

While the peafowl is native to the Indian subcontinent the species has been introduced to many other parts of the world. In their native habitat, they may roost in trees but can also be found in grasslands and scrublands.

Bird of Paradise (Paradisaeidae family)

With 45 species in a range of beautiful colors, it’s no wonder that the bird of paradise is considered one of the most visually pleasing birds on the planet. While the females typically have plumage that allows them to blend in with their surroundings, the males have long, elaborate feathers which they use in their courtship displays.

One of the most unique things about the bird of paradise is that its feathers come in many forms from capes to plumes and many other ornamental structures, they really know how to stand out from the crowd. Males will show off their plumage using dances and stances to impress a female who will assess her suitor for his genetic suitability based on the size and vibrancy of his feathers.

While males may attempt to impress a female alone, birds of paradise are also known to engage in lekking where many males will come together and put on a group performance, allowing females to take their pick of the bunch. This is common in many bird species.

Birds of paradise are rainforest dwellers found in countries like New Guinea and its neighboring islands as well as some parts of tropical Australia. But as I have mentioned, there are several species including Wilson’s bird of paradise which boasts turquoise and blue feathers on the head with red plumage and black markings on the back. Not forgetting that curlicue tail.

Other species include the greater bird of paradise which is known for its long, wiry tail feathers and brightly colored plumage that comes in shades of green and yellow. Some species may even have iridescent feathers thanks to the way that the feather barbules reflect light. This perfectly demonstrates the visual diversity among these birds.

Golden Pheasant (Chrysolophus pictus)

While many pheasant species boast beautiful coloration, none is quite as impressive as that of the golden pheasant, a species found in mountainous forested areas of China.

The female golden pheasant is not golden at all and instead has a brown, mottled coloration that helps her to blend into her surroundings. But the males have brightly colored plumage which becomes more prominent during the breeding season and allows them to attract a mate. The body is red while the crest and rump are a rich golden color and the males will raise their crest during mating rituals as well as fanning out their tail feathers while strutting and making loud vocalizations.

Females will choose a male not only based on how vibrant his colors are but also how intense his mating ritual is; the more effort they put in, the more likely they are to get the girl!

Interestingly, it’s not just the color of the male golden pheasant’s features that make them so visually appealing, it’s the structure as well. For this reason, these birds are often seen as a cultural symbol of beauty. They’re often featured in artwork and folklore but they’re also essential to the ecosystem as their diet of insects helps to control pest populations.

Manakin (Pipridae family)

The manakin, covering about 55 species, is a type of passerine bird found in the tropics of the Americas. These birds may only be small, growing to around 6 inches (15 cm) but the males have impressive plumage that comes in handy when it’s time to find a mate.

While most of the body is a sleek black color, male manakins have beautiful bursts of color on the wings, back, and head in shades of red and blue. Another striking feature of these birds is the long, ornate tail and some individuals even have showy feathers around the throat although this is not common across the board.

During the breeding season, the males will often engage in lekking behaviors, and will put on fantastical displays that include spreading their wings, jumping, acrobatic flights, and anything else it takes to show off their plumage. While the manakin does not possess melanosomes to produce iridescent plumage, it has been shown that period shifts in feather structure allow them to have iridescent qualities from time to time, further aiding in their attempts to impress a female who will be looking for the most genetically suitable partner. The brighter and more impressive the plumage, the more likely a male is to have reproductive success.

Temperature Regulation

Earlier I touched very briefly on how the dark feathers of the emperor penguin allow it to absorb heat from the sun and stay warm. But this isn’t something that’s exclusive to these Antarctic birds. In fact, it’s probably a lot more common than you think.

Birds that have darker plumage will absorb more sunlight and heat than those with lighter colored plumage and this is just one of the ways that birds are able to thermoregulate. While you may think that this puts lighter-colored birds at a disadvantage, you would be wrong. Studies have shown that many migratory birds have lighter feathers and this could be a way to help them stay cool as they head off on their extensive journeys.

What’s even more interesting is that scientists have discovered that birds with darker feathers tend to be better at soaring. That’s because the dark coloration causes the wing to heat up by as much as nine degrees, creating a convection current, boosting the bird’s ability to glide at higher heights.

Much of a bird’s coloration is down to its environment, with species having evolved and adapted over millions of years to fit in with their habitats. Species that live in cooler climates may have darker colors that contain higher concentrations of melanin. However, in warmer climates, lighter colored feathers reflect light from the sun, allowing the bird to remain cool and prevent the individual from overheating. What’s more, studies have revealed that iridescent birds, which are often found in tropical climates, remain cooler because of the way that light reflects off the feathers. However, in species that live in cooler climates, this could be detrimental.

I talked earlier about the willow ptarmigan whose colors change seasonally to help it blend in. Some birds will also undergo a seasonal molt for the purpose of more effective temperature regulation. While the aforementioned willow ptarmigan changes to a lighter color in winter to blend in, some species’ feathers will darken in winter to allow for maximum heat absorption from the sun.

You may have seen birds basking in the sun and they’ll often do this to regulate their body temperature. Some will also spread out their wings and sit still as a way of releasing heat on a hot day. Other behaviors that are influenced by temperature include nesting with some birds using their ability to regulate their own body temperature to efficiently incubate their eggs.

Orange Chat (Epthianura aurifrons)

The orange chat is a small bird endemic to Australia. While its name may suggest that it has orange plumage, these birds are typically more deep yellow in color with brown, black, and white barred markings on the wings. However, the females have a more mottled coloration which allows them to blend into their surroundings.

But what is fascinating is that both male and female orange chats are able to reflect infrared light which comes in very handy since their central Australian habitat can get extremely hot. This is something that scientists have discovered to be common among bird species that live in hot, dry climates.

As well as being able to adapt to the high temperatures of its habitat, the orange chat is also well adapted to searching for food. In periods of extreme dryness, these nomadic birds are known to make irregular movements to find the best food sources.

Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura)

The turkey vulture is a large raptor that can grow up to two and a half feet with a wingspan of up to six feet. These giant birds can be seen soaring over the Americas from Canada all the way down to the tip of South America. The reason that they’re so good are soaring is largely because of their dark plumage. They’re covered in brown to black feathers that absorb heat from the sun, allowing for efficient thermoregulation.

Before taking flight, the turkey vulture will spread its wings, warming itself up with the sun before soaring into the air. They may also be spotted sunbathing even when they aren’t going to take flight. Since these birds mainly feed on carrion, they may have to go for long periods between meals, and being able to retain heat means that they’re not having to spend energy on staying warm.

Not only does their dark plumage help to maintain a consistent body temperature but turkey vultures are also easily able to blend into their surroundings. While they do not have many natural predators, it is not uncommon for large owls to prey on young turkey vultures and sometimes, even adults.

Crow (Corvus spp.)

The crow is an extremely common bird that is found on every continent apart from Antarctica and South America. These large passerine birds are famous for their black feathers which are typically uniform over the whole body.

It’s important to note that there are 135 species of crows and each one may have a slightly different appearance. Some are larger than others while some crow species may have glossy feathers that reflect light, allowing the bird to remain cool on hot days.

Having dark plumage helps the crow to blend in with its surroundings and avoid predation from hawks, falcons, and eagles, especially in areas where there are a lot of shadows.

However, one of the main reasons for this dark plumage is so that the crow can regulate its body temperature by absorbing heat from the sun. Since much of the crow’s habitat is in temperate areas like parts of North America and Europe, being able to stay warm in cooler periods is vital to its survival. For this very reason, crows can often be seen sunbathing. They will spread their wings, exposing as much of their dark plumage as possible for maximum absorption.

Just like the turkey vulture I talked about in the last section, the crow may also spread its wings before taking flight. In urban areas, the crow may also be spotted warming itself and nesting on man-made surfaces that retain heat. This demonstrates the crow’s impressive cognitive abilities and problem-solving skills for which this bird is highly renowned.

Snow Goose (Anser caerulescens)

The snow goose has beautiful white plumage on most of its body but its outer wing feathers are black in color. This is something that has been heavily studied by scientists and there is fossilized evidence of these dark flight feathers not only in birds but also in feathered dinosaurs.

One of the reasons that these darker outer feathers are so intriguing is that it is believed their function is to increase the immediate ambient temperature of the wings but also serves as a way to make flight more efficient by reducing drag.

Other research shows that the presence of dark feathers, where we find the highest concentration of melanin could be to reduce wear and tear, with these darker feathers being stronger than their lighter counterparts. Moreover, evidence suggests that darker feathers are more aerodynamic, which explains why they may be useful as flight feathers.

Predation Avoidance

Avoiding being eaten is one of the most crucial abilities in nature and ensures the very survival of any given species. This is another of the reasons for varying colors of bird plumage with a phenomenon known as aposematism seeing birds using bright colors as a warning sign to predators. This is common in toxic species from a range of animal families including amphibians and reptiles as well as birds.

While it may surprise you, there are toxic birds out there. Although, unlike reptiles, birds don’t actually produce their own toxins but rather sequester them from their diet. It is thought that many birds will not only use bright colors to warn predators that they are toxic but also as a form of mimicry to fool predators into thinking that they’ll make a fatal error by eating them. This is known as Batesian mimicry and occurs when animals display toxic traits without actually being toxic.

However, there is another form of mimicry known as Mullerian mimicry whereby several harmful species evolve to look like one another. This can be confusing to predators and provides these species with a survival advantage.

And it isn’t just bright colors that make birds off-putting to potential predators. Some species have patterns or markings that serve as a warning. Take the male peafowl, for example, whose many eyespots on the tail can be quite an alarming sight for a hungry predator. When the peacock suddenly reveals his tail, this can be immediately intimidating to a predator who will likely flee. 

As well as using bright colors and patterns to deter predators, some birds will also use them as a warning to other members of the same species in order to defend their territory. The brighter and more vibrant the plumage, the more dominant an individual will appear. While these colors may be used in the complete opposite way during breeding, to attract a mate, they come in handy when trying to scare off competition.

Pitohui (Pitohui spp.)

The term pitohui refers to six species of birds that are found endemically in New Guinea. These birds are pretty unique in that they’re one of a few species that can lay claim to being toxic. The plumage of these birds contains batrachotoxin, something commonly found in poison dart frogs. But if birds cannot create toxins themselves, how did the pitohui end up with it?

Well, it all comes down to its diet which contains a species of beetle that the bird can sequester toxins from. This gives it an amazing survival advantage when it comes to predation and its blend of brick red and black feathers creates a striking contrast that says ‘don’t eat me!’

It is believed that the coloration of the pitohui is actually an ancestral trait that has developed throughout the course of its evolution. However, it’s worth noting that different species of pitohui have different coloration. For example, the hooded pitohui has a more orange plumage around the center than the brick red coloration of its cousins.

Cinereous Mourner (Laniocera hypopyrra)

When you think of caterpillars, you might imagine them being part of a bird’s diet, not something that a bird might imitate. In fact, the cinereous mourner does exactly that. These birds, when they are young, have a unique way of warning off predators.

While the adults are pretty boring to look at with gray plumage and no distinct markings, when they are born, the chicks have fluffy feathers that come in various shades of bright orange. This gives them the appearance of a poisonous caterpillar and they’ll even go as far as moving like one, just to add to their deception.

And if that wasn’t enough, the chicks, that are found in the tropical and subtropical forests of South America, are even the same size as the toxic caterpillars they’re trying to mimic. They’re so convincing that it was only within the last few decades that humans discovered they were actually baby birds! Talk about pulling the wool over our eyes.

Eurasian Hoopoe (Upupa epops)

The Eurasian hoopoe is one of the most distinct-looking birds in the world. It boasts an impressive crest on the head and feathers of cinnamon with heavily marked black and white wings. Found in Asia, Europe, and North Africa, these migratory birds will head to the tropics during winter. 

But no matter where they are, they have the uncanny ability to let predators know that they’re not a suitable meal. And any predator that doesn’t listen is in for a nasty surprise since these birds are actually toxic.

Unlike a lot of birds that sequester toxins from their diet, the Eurasian hoopoe has a unique ability to create its very own poison! In the uropygial gland, located in the throat, most birds make oil to preen themselves. But in the cases of the hoopoe, this gland is packed with bacteria that make a concoction of toxic substances. When the bird preens itself, these toxins are transferred to the feathers and, if a predator is brave enough to eat it, it’ll soon find out that this was a mistake.

Australasian Swamphen (Porphyrio melanotus)

The Australian swamphen is found in Australia, New Zealand, and New Guinea where there are five different subspecies. These birds have a generally dark coloration that comes in shades of black and blue with a red bill and head.

For the most part, they don’t look too terrifying but the underside of the tail boasts a brilliant white color which they use to flash at anything that threatens them. This is a form of aposematism and fools the predator into thinking that the swamphen is more dangerous than it is.

But this isn’t the only way that these birds defend themselves. They will live in groups of up to 15 and, when approached by a predator, the group will start shrieking loudly and making bold movements to deter the threat.

It’s been observed that when they are unsuccessful, these birds are likely to abandon their nests and retreat from the danger.

Why are Tropical Birds Generally More Colorful?

Why are tropical birds generally more colorful?

In the pet trade, tropical bird species are far more highly sought after and that’s because of their bright and beautiful coloration. But it does beg the question of why tropical species have this aesthetic advantage.

First of all, we have to consider that, in the tropics, the colorful birds aren’t the only species. In fact, there are likely many more drab-looking birds but they simply don’t get as much attention as their vibrant neighbors.

Still, that isn’t to say that tropical birds are not more colorful because studies have shown that, the closer you get to the equator, the more colorful birds’ plumage tends to be. According to this research, there was up to a 30% increase in vibrancy and color between birds from the polar regions and those along the equator showing that latitude does affect bird coloration.

But that still doesn’t tell us why this is. One of the reasons speculated is that in warm, moist environments, there is a greater abundance of food which means that birds are able to produce more energy to produce showy colors. There is a greater abundance of pigment-containing fruits in these regions which also add to the vibrancy of these species.

Moreover, in terms of survival, those bright colors are more likely to attract attention from other members of the species. When it comes to breeding, getting noticed is of the utmost importance but a bird that blends into the dense tree cover of the tropical forests doesn’t really stand much of a chance.

Why Do Feathers Never Turn Grey as Birds Age?

Why do feathers never turn grey as birds age?

As someone who is fast approaching 40, I’m starting to notice many gray hairs on my head. That’s something that, whether we like it or not, humans just have to get used to. But I’ve never seen a bird whose feathers start to turn gray as it ages, so why is this and how does aging work in birds?

While bird feathers are made out of the same material as human hair; keratin, they don’t suffer that silvery appearance that we do. That’s because it has less to do with the amount of pigment in the keratin and more to do with the structure of the feathers. 

As humans, we will add dyes to our hair to change the color (especially as we start to turn gray), but birds have another tactic to prevent their beautiful appearance from deteriorating. They alter the holes within the structure of their feathers which in turn, affects how light bounces off of them.

That’s a pretty cool trick and certainly one that I know a lot of humans would love to be able to do. But while we’re not able to control how light hits or bounces off our hair, birds have inspired scientists to look at ways we could produce textiles that don’t fade using this natural technology; pretty cool, huh?

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