Birds are a colorful and exquisite terrestrial vertebrate species. From their soothing sounds or songs to their bright structural patterned feathers evolve to delight humankind.
These majestic creatures are one of the most vulnerable species, often acting as indicators to alert humans about environmental changes with its feather coloration.
We can do nothing but marvel at the incredible diversity of pigments and patterns of more than 10,000 aerial species present on the earth. Humans get solace in the beauty that birds show off and wonder how these effects are created naturally.
Most of the birds get their pigments due to the chemical compounds located in the skin or feathers. Some species obtain their spectacular colors through regular diet or melanin produced in their body.
Birds often use their colors to identify themselves to other members in their flocks during fights and hold them together to protect their community. Most of the birds use their bright and eye-catching colors to impress or even attract possible mates.
Birds confuse or distract their predators with their spectacular color and feather patterns and fly away within seconds from the spot. Some species use colorful feathers to hide from their enemy by camouflaging them.
How do birds get their colors?
The bird’s plumage appears appealing to the eye from two primary sources of color, from either the refraction of sunlight caused by the feather’s pattern (structural colors) or pigmentation.
Some species’ feather’s colors are the result of the amalgamation of structural colors and pigments. The parrot’s green colors result from the yellow pigments overlying the blue characteristics of the plumage.
Pigments are the chemical compounds or coloring substances present in both animals and plants. Pigments create breathtaking colors independent of the feathers’ structure that help them absorb sunlight’s wavelengths and reflect others. The reflected light will reach our retinas(eye).
The shortest wavelength is “violet,” and the longest wavelength is “red” in the electromagnetic spectrum. If white color reaches our visual system, all wavelengths of lights are reflected from feathers; when there is no reflection of wavelength lights, we can see black.
The prominent pigmentation in birds come from three categories such as:
- Melanins: Responsible for greys, black, pale yellow, and brown color pigmentations.
- Carotenoids: Responsible for orange, yellow, red, and other colorful rainbow hues.
- Porphyrins: Produces a range of colors like red, green, brown, and pink.
Out of all these pigments, melanins are tiny granules of colors produced by the body and present in both feathers and skin. The melanin concentration and body parts can create a wide range of colors varying from brightest black to reddish-brown and light yellows.
Melanin provides coloration and gives strength, robustness, and is more resistant to wear than plumage without melanin. This pigment helps wingtips feathers to avoid abrasion from the wind sweeping in the flight. Feathers without melanin are weakest among all plumage, and white birds have black feathers in black wingtips or wings.
Melanin causes the flight feathers’ tips to wear and tear to get the black color and provide extra robustness.
The carotenoid coloring is attained through the bird’s food habits. The plants produce carotenoids and acquire coloration by consuming plants or preying on herbivorous consider animals.
The pigmentation intensity acts as an indicator of their health, whether the birds consume proper nutritious food or if their body has optimum energy to convert the carotenoids into colors in the plumage.
The olive-green of the female Scarlet Tanager is obtained by interacting carotenoids with melanins secreted in their skin. Carotenoids bring the Goldfinches’ bright yellow pigment, Yellow warbles birds, and the male Blackburnian Warbler’s orangish yellow colors.
The modifying amino acids produce the porphyrins pigment. The chemical formula of each porphyrin differs, but all have the same trait. When the porphyrins are exposed to ultraviolet light, it fluoresces bright red like rocks and minerals.
The birds that attained their coloration by porphyrins are pigeons, owls, and gallinaceous species. The porphyrins are responsible for bright reds and the greens of the turacos’ species.
Many avian species can discriminate a variety of colors than humans, including ultraviolet wavelengths. Many bird species have specific feathers structures that reflect wavelengths of colors in the ultraviolet range.
In addition to the manifold of avian colors, the feathers’ structure also produces many color variants. The various hues of colors are generated by the reflected light of the proteins present in the plumage. Iridescent and blue colors are structural colors, cannot be produced by the pigments.
The breathtaking shimmering effect present on fewer avian species is due to the microfeature barbules’ microscopic structure that determines whether the incident light is scattered, reflected, or absorbed.
When light hits the surface of closely arranged layers of highly modified barbules on the feathers, specific wavelengths are reflected, and others pass through. The refraction surface works like a prism and splits the wavelength of the light into bright component colors.
The reflected wavelength becomes a shimmering and glowing iridescent display or canceled based on the view angle. The avian species such as Purple Gallinule, Tricolored Heron, and Gorget exhibit iridescent colors.
A slight blue or non-iridescent color is produced from very tiny air particles in the bird feather’s barbs. The Barbs have a diameter smaller than the red light. These minute pockets can influence shorter blue color wavelengths and scatter the incoming sunlight in all directions.
When structural blue color is viewed at any angle, the spectrum remains the same in reflected light. If we consider the plumage between the source light and the observer or transmitted light, the blue color will disappear.
Indigo Buntings’ blue feathers, stellers’ Jays, Bluebirds, and Blue Jays are the best examples of species with non-iridescent feathers.
When we observe a Steller’s Jays or Bluebird’s feather in the normal light, we can see blue color. Post that, if you follow the same feather in back-lighting, it looks like brown color. The brown color appeared because of the melanin present in the feathers, and the blue wavelength is lost because of no reflected lights.
Birds change into abnormal colors regularly when the pigmentation level is higher or lower than the usual range. The avian species like American crow, Common grackle, House sparrow, and Canada gooses show aberrant white patches.
The pigments deposited for other purposes would produce some colors. The feathers’ wingtips will wear or tear out easily than the base of the wings. The colored feathers are more robust and weigh high. That is the reason why white avian species have dark wingtips. A few examples are gulls, pelicans, terns, and gannets.
Why do birds have beautifully colored feathers?
The striking colors of each feather’s stripe, hues, and spot serve primary and vital purposes. The fundamental reasons for birds colorful plumage and structural markings are:
- To attract male mates and intimidate the competition.
- To protect from predators.
The avian species sharpens their color vision with special oil in front of the cones in their eyes. The wide range of rainbow hues is a very significant avian world. The different purposes of spectacular bird’s plumage are:
Selecting a potential mate
When it comes to courtship, the brilliant color and intensity of the male plumage influence the female avian species to select their potential mates. The pigmentation and structural colors are not limited to a specific gender of a bird.
Some male birds use their extravagant and extreme ornamental feathers to show off their dancing skills to attract females. The males display their dazzling and eye-catching tail feathers to attract their suitable females.
Male birds compete for females by fighting, but they win potential mates by unfurling their colorful feathers.
To communicate with family members.
Birds use the varied colors of exquisite feathers and standalone from other members of the flock. With brilliant colors, birds differentiate their mates, offsprings, and family members from congregations and recognize their rival among different communities.
Birds can fly aerially owing to their feathers. The sharp, brilliant and structural plumage gives strength and different flying abilities to them. Depending on the feathers’ weight and size, birds migrate to long distances.
Escape from predators
The closely arranged feathers protect birds from harsh environmental changes and the colors help to camouflage. The birds can conceal themselves from their potential predators and help to identify their flock to fight back.
Birds use their strong and bold feathers to warn off rival birds from their territory. Mostly, wings are the defensive mechanism of birds during the war. Birds show their emotions such as anger, scare or threat by lifting their white tail feathers.
Withstand in environmental changes and climates
The interlocking feather patterns keep birds warm from extreme cold seasons. The birds’ feathers cannot absorb or penetrate through water and become waterproof feathers by applying waxes scattered in their preen glands near the tail.
The dusty powders in their feathers also add water-resistant quality and keep their body temperature stable even in stormy rain.
What birds are blue?
The bird’s feathers contain more than one primary color. There are 15 prominent colors of birds that are seen around the world. The bluebirds and bunting families ( Lazuli or Indigo Buntings) are the predominantly found blue color species.
Some of the fascinating blue color birds are:
A brightly small and stocky blue color bird, found in coastal regions of Mexico and central Americas.
Blue Peafowl or a peacock
The male peacocks are the most beautiful and blue hues bird found in South Asia. Peafowl feathers look like spatula-tipped wired patterns. Its head, neck, and breast are of iridescent blue color.
The most giant parrot by length, and its feathers are entirely blue.
It belongs to the Alcedinidae family and has a big head, bushy crest, white-collar, and black dagger-like bill. The upper parts of the birds are covered with blue feathers. The lower parts are white with grey legs.
It belongs to the bunting family and a songbird. It has bold, iridescent and blue plumage, with a black tail and sharp blue edges.
Great Blue Heron
It belongs to the Ardeidae family and has a blue-gray body and gray with blue flight feathers.
It has a distinctive blue crest, wings, and tail feathers, prominently found in North America.
What birds are black?
Throughout all the ages, black-colored avian species have bad-rap, considered bad omens, and associated with death. Melanin produced in birds’ skin and feathers is responsible for the black or brown coloration of feathers.
The most common blackbirds are Raven and crows can be seen in almost all environments and habitats.
The most famous black colored birds are;
- European Starling
- American Crow
- Common Raven
- Common Grackle
- Red-winged Blackbird
- Brown-headed Cowbird
- Black Tern
- Turkey Vulture
- American Coot
What birds are red?
The vibrant red color species are common in the bird kingdom. Especially male birds use their plumage to attract potential mates. The avian species gets bright vibrant red color by carotenoids pigments ingested through the red color-based feed.
Some common cheerily birds seen in backyards are:
- Pine Grosbeak
- Northern Cardinal
- Summer Tanager
- Purple Finch
- Vermilion Flycatcher
- Scarlet Ibis
- Red Crossbill
What birds are yellow?
The species gets brilliant eye-pleasing yellow colors plumage from carotenoid pigments.
A few common yellowish or greenish-yellow color birds are:
- Yellow warbler
- American Goldfinches
- Summer Tanager
- Scarlet tanager
- Baltimore oriole
- Orchard oriole
What are the rarest colorful birds in the world?
The most spectacular rare species of exotic birds around the world are:
- Andean Cock-of-the-Rock – It has bright pompom-shaped crests on top of its beaks.
- Kakapo – it is a rarest nocturnal parrot, has long lives, and does not fly.
- Quetzal – It has long green tail feathers.
- Great curassow – It looks like Pheasant-like avian species
- Hoatzin – It uses two claws present on their wings to climb trees and catch prey.
- Indian frogmouth – It can blend with its environment and escape from predators.
- Ribbon-tailed Australia – it has unusual thin and long white feathers.
There are few other rare species like Long-Wattled Umbrellabird, Malachite kingfisher, Hooded pitohui, Turquoise-Browed motmot, Greater Bird of Paradise, Mandarin Duck, and many more. There are chances for still many more species of birds, yet undiscovered and undisturbed. They are all source that proves, nature exists no matter what.