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plumage

The Turaco's Non-colorfast Plumage

Two hundred years ago, on an African expedition, the French ornithologist Jules Verreaux noticed that turacos - perhaps one like the Lady Ross's Turaco seen here - had a hard time flying when they were wet. So the young explorer grabbed one of the wet, grounded birds by the wing, only to find... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

Sandgrouse - Desert Water-carriers

Sandgrouse live in some of the most parched environments on earth. To satisfy the thirst of their chicks, male sandgrouse carry water back to the nest in a surprising but effective way: by carrying it in their feathers. Thanks to coiled hairlike extensions on the feathers of the underparts, a... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

The Flicker's White Rump

When a Northern Flicker takes flight, a bold patch of white feathers flashes on its rump, in contrast to its brown body. This white rump likely evolved as an anti-predator adaptation. A hawk flying in pursuit of a flicker may focus on the white spot rather than the darker image of the whole bird.... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

Green Birds and Brown Birds in the Tropical Rainforest

The canopies of the world’s tropical rainforests are green year round. So are many of the birds within them, from parrots and hummingbirds to trogons and jacamars, such as this Rufous-tailed Jacamar. Being green in the tropics helps birds blend in to their surroundings, which is especially... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

Flying and Molting - A Tricky Balance

Feathers are amazing structures. But after about a year, constant use and exposure to the elements mean they have to be replaced. So how do you replace the roughly 20 feathers in each wing that are essential to flight? Many species — such as this Common Raven — molt just a few feathers at a time... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

The Auklet's Whiskers - Not Just for Show

In Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, thousands of Whiskered Auklets — miniature relatives of puffins and murres — nest in deep rock crevices. The birds owe their name to the white plumes that sprout from their heads each summer. These fancy “whiskers” likely play a role in courtship. But they're not... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

What Happens When Birds Get Wet?

Have you ever seen a bird foraging in the rain and wondered why it isn't soaked to the bone? While every bird wears one feather coat, different kinds of feathers – and even different parts of the same feather – can perform various functions. The outermost tips of the main body feathers, called... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage, science

The Benefits of a Raven's Black Feathers

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.  read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ornithology, plumage

Scarlet Tanagers Under the Canopy

In summer, the forests of the eastern United States are home to a bounty of birds, including this gorgeous Scarlet Tanager, which spends most of the year in tropical South America. The male’s body is a dazzling red, in contrast to his black wings and tail. It seems that these boldly colored birds... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  birding, birdwatching, plumage

The Baltimore Oriole

Not all blackbirds are mostly black. This Baltimore Oriole is orange! It’s named after Sir George Calvert, First Lord of Baltimore, whose coat-of-arms carried a gold and black design. In spring and summer, you may see these orioles in the Midwest and eastern US, lighting up the trees where they... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  birdfeeding, nesting, plumage

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