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plumage

August Molt

By August, many birds have just completed the intense rigors of nesting and raising young and now undergo a complete molt. Molt is a cyclic process of feather growth. As new feathers grow in, they push the old ones out. Why molt? Because feathers wear out. Songbirds that migrate long distances... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

Birds Dress for Spring

It's spring! And for many birds, a time to look their best to attract a new mate. This American Goldfinch has recently molted. Its old, worn-down feathers have fallen out, and new ones have grown in. When goldfinches molt in the fall, they lose these brightly colored feathers. Their winter... 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

House Finches - Red and Yellow

House Finches eat many kinds of seeds and fruits. A careful look at male House Finches at a feeder shows that, while most males show red feathering, some are decidedly more orange - and some even yellow. House Finches acquire their coloration from pigments known as carotenoids in the foods they... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

Why a Gorget Glitters

A hummingbird's brilliant throat feathers are called a "gorget," a term applied in past centuries to the metallic swatch protecting the throat of a knight-in-armor. Light waves reflect and refract off the throat feathers, creating color in the manner of sun glinting off a film of oil on water.... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

How Feathers Insulate

A single Canada Goose has between 20 and 25 thousand feathers. Some are designed to help the bird fly or shed water. Many are the short, fluffy kind, the down that insulates the bird from the cold. Birds survive in sub-zero weather by fluffing their feathers, creating layers of air and feathers.... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage, science

The Gorgeous Gadwall

When you first glimpse a male Gadwall, you might think you're looking at a female Mallard. But take a closer look, and you'll see plumage as richly and subtly colored as an English gentleman's tweed jacket. For a closer look, click Enlarge under the photo. The Gadwall now nests all across the... read more »

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Fancy Ducks

Take a walk around a lake in late November, and you'll find male ducks in their most brilliant breeding colors. These ducks have lost their nondescript late-summer feathers, known as "eclipse plumage." Male dabbling ducks - like this Green-winged Teal - look their finest in late fall and winter,... read more »

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Ducks Head South

In early fall, you'll see male ducks - like these Mallards - looking very different from when they flew north last spring. The beautiful drakes seem to be gone. But the males are here - sort of "under cover." In mid-summer, they molted into nondescript, dull plumage known as eclipse plumage. But... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

Why Are Blackbirds Black?

Why are blackbirds black? One possible answer is that black is conspicuous against just about all of Nature's backgrounds. Blackbirds, like this flock of Red-winged Blackbirds and Yellow-headed Blackbirds, feed on the ground. Whenever a predator approaches, they take flight. Coming together... read more »

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Topics & Themes:  plumage

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