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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 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

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 Red-bellied Woodpecker and its Curious Name

Red-bellied Woodpeckers are bold, conspicuous, and vocal, thriving in rural and urban areas east of the Mississippi. Like most woodpeckers, Red-bellieds eat lots of insects. But they also like nuts, berries, and seeds. They can be attracted to back yards with suet cakes, berry bushes, or even a... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  birdwatching, plumage, species account

Why the Black Skimmer Skims

That’s not a distant dog barking. It’s a Black Skimmer in flight, at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. This striking, black-and-white bird with a red bill and red feet has a most unusual way of feeding. It flies low along the surface of the water with its beak open. Closely... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology, ornithology, plumage

American Redstart - The Tale Is in the Tail

Who knew that this American Redstart’s feathers could reveal so much information about its life? For example, the more intense the color of a male American Redstart’s feathers, the better his chances of holding a good winter territory, which means access to good nutrition. Being well fed and in... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  breeding display, ecology, migration, plumage

Red-backed Fairywren - Speciation and Biodiversity

How do new kinds of birds and animals arise in the world? How does nature proceed from having a single species to having two different species? To find out, Dr. Mike Webster of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is studying Red-backed Fairywrens in Australia. These birds, like the male pictured here,... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  ecology, ornithology, plumage

The Things That Wings Can Tell You About a Bird

One of the reasons we birders are so fascinated by our feathered friends is certainly related to their mastery of the air. They can fly and our terrestrial species has always viewed flight as an enviable, sometimes magical ability. read more »

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Topics & Themes:  flight, plumage, science

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