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plumage

Three Buntings - Indigo, Lazuli, and Painted

Each spring and summer, Indigo Buntings sing their buzzy, jumbled songs from brushy edges throughout the Eastern US. West of the Rockies, a different bunting sings his song. Named for the gemstone lapis lazuli, a male Lazuli Bunting shimmers an iridescent azure. He looks as if he might have been... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage, vocalization

Visiting a Sage-Grouse Lek

It was March, and some time before dawn, I was driving a van full of birders down a gravel backroad of Southeastern Oregon. The dirt track slid under us disconcertingly, like a thin layer of wet snow. When rain falls heavily on ground only half prepared for absorption, a sickly alluvium forms. We... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  birdwatching, breeding display, plumage, sound

Little Blue Heron, Light and Dark

Two herons, one dark, the other white, feed at the edge of a wooded pond in the South. Both birds are Little Blue Herons. What's going on here? Well, the white bird is a juvenile. These young herons forage with flocks of Snowy Egrets, which stir up prey. The white immatures mix readily with the... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

Green Birds on St. Patrick's Day

You'd think that with so much green in nature, many birds would be a'wearin' the green for camouflage. Not just on St. Patrick's Day, but every day. Yet very few of our birds cavort in Irish green. There be some wee exceptions, however - some of the hummingbirds, with their backs of bright green,... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

Towhees' Distractive Plumage

Both this Eastern Towhee and the Spotted Towhee of the West sport a black or dark brown hood and back. And when they fly, their tails flash white. When a hawk gives chase, the towhee's flashing tail-feathers draw the predator's attention. Momentarily distracted, the hawk may come up with just a... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

Peregrines and Pigeon Plumages

Urban Peregrine Falcons rely on Rock Pigeons for much of their diet. But some pigeons appear harder to catch than others. Pigeons with white rumps evade pursuing falcons more often than those with dark rumps. When scientists took dark-rumped pigeons and colored their rumps white, their survival... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

Ptarmigan in Winter

Both the Willow Ptarmigan and these White-tailed Ptarmigan, feathered mostly brown in summer, are utterly transfigured by an autumn molt. As snow begins to mantle their world, both species, now all white, blend in superbly. But the ptarmigan pulls another trick. It adds dense white feathering on... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

A Bird of Two Colors

Related to shearwaters and petrels, the Northern Fulmar will eat just about anything it finds on the surface of the ocean, from fish and squids to dead whales. Fulmars are polymorphic, that is to say they come in more than one color. This difference is independent of sex and age. The reason for... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

The Northern Flicker

The Northern Flicker is a woodpecker, but one that hardly looks the part. Where most woodpeckers are a reliable mix of black, white, and bits of red, the Northern Flicker is buffy tan overall. The undersides of its wings and tail-feathers flash with coppery-red, giving the bird the nickname "Red... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

Sunning with Doves

A Mourning Dove lies belly down on the soil of a garden bed. It fluffs its feathers, then relaxes its wings, draping them outward to expose fully its back and rump to the morning sun. A great many birds sun themselves, often in postures that give maximum sun exposure to the head, neck, and upper... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

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