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The Benefits of a Raven's Black Feathers

How can ravens take the heat?

The desert seems an unlikely habitat choice for all-black birds. But ravens thrive even in the arid Southwest, where common sense suggests that light-colored feathers would be a better adaptation to the scorching sun. As it turns out, a raven’s black plumage works well in the desert. 

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Transcript: 

BirdNote®  
Black Feathers in the Heat of the Desert
Written by Bob Sundstrom

[Music]

This is BirdNote.

Above a desert landscape, a raven soars, sleek black feathers against blues and browns. 

The desert seems an unlikely choice for this all-black bird. But ravens thrive even in the arid, often hot Southwest, where common sense suggests that light-colored feathers would be a better adaptation to the scorching sun. Like wearing a light-colored suit in the tropics. [Calls of Common Ravens; http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/44757, 0.24-27][Music]

But as it turns out, a raven's black plumage works well in the desert. Black feathers do conduct the sun’s warming rays, but they concentrate the solar heat near the surface of the plumage. All it takes is a breeze or air movement from wind, or from flying, to convect the heat away from the surface of the raven’s dark feathers. 

Light-colored feathers absorb some of the sun’s rays, too. But they tend to trap heat and send it more directly to the skin, where a breeze gives less relief. So in even a slight wind, the skin of a black-feathered bird stays cooler than the skin of a white-feathered bird. This desert breeze also helps explain why many desert tribes, such as Bedouins, deal with extreme heat by wearing dark robes and sheltering in black tents. [Music] [Different Common Raven call set; http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/132161, 0.22-26]

Today's show is brought to you by the Bobolink Foundation. 

I'm Mary McCann. 

###

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Common Raven call [132161] recorded by Gerrit Vyn. 'Houston In Two Seconds (Soundtrack Version)' by Ry Cooder, from 'Paris Texas Original Motion Picture Soundtrack' 2001 Warner Bros. Records Inc and WEA International Inc.  BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.  
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Dominic Black

© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org  December 2014/2015       Narrator: Mary McCann ID#    CORA-08-2014-12-15   CORA-08 

Thanks to Minette Layne for the beautiful photo!

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