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plumage

A Trick of the Light . . .

Anna's Hummingbirds sparkle with iridescence... with their emerald green back and hot pink throats — known as gorgets. But wait! Catch them in a certain light, and the sparkle goes away, or entirely new and vibrant colors appear. The microscopic structure of the feather barbules — not pigments —... read more »

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Black Turnstones Head South

Black Turnstones are back at Alki! It's mid-August and Gregg Thompson is photographing Black Turnstones returning to the Puget Sound area for the winter. And he's trying to sort through the group, studying different plumages and ages. Most of these birds are adult non-breeders or adults coming... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

Which Bird Has the Most Feathers

In general, the bigger the bird, the higher the number of feathers. Someone counted the feathers on a Tundra Swan and came up with 25,216. At least 80% were on the swan’s neck. Penguins, on the other hand, have lots of small feathers all over their bodies. The largest species is the Emperor... read more »

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Eau de Junco

It’s junco season in North America. Flocks of these white-bellied snowbirds are kicking and scratching on woodland edges and beneath feeders from southern Canada to Mexico. On warm winter days, the males may even break into song. But songs and calls aren’t the only way Dark-eyed Juncos... read more »

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Long-tailed Duck: Little Known Duck of Many Secrets!

The Long-tailed Duck is not widely known outside birdwatching circles. But what a wonderful duck it is. Found only locally at certain times of the year, and with an oddly goofy, human-like voice, the otherwise elegant Long-tailed Duck has some interesting departures from "normal" duck biology... read more »

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Vermilion Flycatcher

What’s the reddest bird in North America? In the East, the Scarlet Tanager or maybe the Summer Tanager. But neither is seen nearly as often as the Northern Cardinal. In the Southwest, another candidate pops out like a bright red flare on the tip of a branch: the Vermilion Flycatcher. This dashing... read more »

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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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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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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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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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