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Why Birds Have Colorful Feathers
Scientific prospects are still awed by the minor changes observed in everyday life that symbolize the greater picture of evolution. To date, studies show that birds perceive and see the world much differently from other animals due to their diversity in the color spectrum. Relative to Mary Caswell’s (c2021) of Cambridge University assertion that just as a newspaper can only print the few subsets of colors visible to the human eye, birds feathers can only produce a subset of colors that are theoretically visible to other birds. Technically, conclusive scientific reports varied they are, agree that birds generate their beautiful colors through sophisticated evolutionary changes in the nanostructure of their feathers. In this article, we delve into the color mystery, then help you understand the factors involved, including evolutionary, physical, and social reasons behind the beautiful plumages.
The Color Mystery
According to the University of Sheffield (2015), birds produce their plumage colors using structures and not dyes or pigments. Notably, the jays can change the color of their feathers equivalent to human hairs using nanostructures that are turnable. Furthermore, based on X-ray scattering techniques, Sheffield University researchers revealed that birds show surprisingly high levels of control and sophistication in generating their colors. Notably, these vividly colored patterns are often used by the jays in recognizing one another and often go from ultraviolet, blue, and then white colored plumages made of nanostructures of spongy keratin materials. Furthermore, the birds are excellent in controlling the hole and sponge sizes of their feathers and fix them mainly to show the reflected colors since when light hits the feather, the hole sizes determine the scatteredness of the light and hence the reflected color as noted by the University of Sheffield (2015). Resultantly, larger holes always produce broader light reflection wavelength, therefore, creating white colors, while compact nanostructural holes and sponges have smaller wavelengths of light reflection hence producing blue colors.
This may be debunking the myths of diet-induced pigmentations since they are bound to fade with time. However, nanostructural pigmentations remain intact, which is why birds never go grey even when they age compared to humans who grey with old age. Based on this, you have an answer to your wonders why non-iridescent structural green birds are a rare species in nature; well, the reason is, creating color green requires complex and narrow wavelength spongy structures that are not easily manipulatable to produce. Nature then gives us the natural green produced by mixing the structural blues, such as birds with yellow pigmentations that absorb some of the blue colors.
Like every other group of animals, birds have evolved to extreme color spectrums, as noted by Carl Zimmer (2009), of the New York Times, from the hot pinks of flamingos to the shimmering blue of peacocks necks. Recent discoveries have revealed color-producing molecules believed to be 47 million years old in feather fossils. They have been analyzed and shown that they would have given the bird a rare dark, iridescent sheen as observed in starlings. In assertion, notes from the National Geographic (c2021) reveal that Waxwing birds in the past ages that died from the intoxication of eating many fermented and overripe berries have co-evolved with the same. Thus their colors relatively match the plants. Herb Wilson (2010) of Maine Birds implies that the dark pigmentation on bird feathers is often melanin that strengthens the wings, especially for long-distance flying birds that evolved black-tipped wings to reduce the wear and tear on their outer wings.
Nature at its best: this is based on natural selection and survival for the fittest. Birds have brightly colored feathers and plumages for the following physical survival reasons:
- The colors suit them in maintaining their body temperatures in specific environments.
- The colors are distinctive, helping identify themselves as flocks and act as security.
- High and long-distance flying birds require strong feathers facilitated by their plumage colors.
- Color patterns always match with their habitats hence providing camouflage from predators.
Just like humans with social instincts of a feeling of belonging, which is often manifested in the tendency to congregate, affiliate, and take part in group behaviors, birds also experience the same, and their plumage color serves an integral part of this:
- The brighter the color, the more attractive the bird and thus attracts mates.
- The colors provide identity and a sense of specie-belonging
Note that these physical and social reasons for the plumage colors are advantages; however, they may relate to developing these specific nanostructural sponges and holes that give them distinctly bright colors.
Mary Caswell. (c2021). Cambridge University: Birds of a feather display only a fraction of possible colors. Retrieved from https://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/birds-of-a-feather-display-only-a-fraction-of-possible-colours
The University of Sheffield. (2015). Nature’s unique way of controlling color explains why birds never go grey. Retrieved from https://www.sheffield.ac.uk/news/nr/jay-bird-feather-grey-nanostructure-university-1.535413
Carl Zimmer. (2009). The New York Times: First Trace of Color Found in Fossil Bird Feathers. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/01/science/01feath.html
National Geographic. (c2021). Why Yellow Birds Mysteriously Turn Red. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/article/birds-change-colors-flickers-honeysuckles
Herb Wilson. (2010). Maine Birds: Feather Pigments. Retrieved from https://web.colby.edu/mainebirds/2010/03/07/ornithological-reading-list/[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]