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The Secrets to Birds' Vibrant Plumage Coloration, Part 1 of 2

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"We belong to the family of passerine birds, who are renowned for the striking colors the males display on their plumage. Many people consider us one of the most beautiful birds in North America. Therefore, we have a nickname 'nonpareil' in French, which means “without equal.” In Mexico we are commonly known as siete colores, meaning 'seven colors.' "

"Carotenoids, melanin and porphyrins are the three substances we metabolize into the three pigments found in a birds’ feather palette. Red, orange, and yellow feathers come from the carotenoids we absorb through what we eat since our bodies cannot synthetize them."

"Melanin displays as black, brown, grey or earth-toned colors in our feathers. This is the same pigment that determines the hair and skin color of humans. While the colors that melanin produces are not as bright as carotenoids, the majority of our complex plumage patterns actually come from melanin because unlike carotenoids, melanin can be synthesized in our bodies." "Melanin not only colors our feathers, but also reinforces their strength and resistance to abrasion. That’s why many seabird species, especially the ones which migrate long distances, have black wing tips or black primary feathers."

"The vibrant hues of pinks, reds, browns and greens noted on the plumage of owls, peacocks and pigeons are derived from porphyrins." "Parrots synthetize special red, orange and yellow pigments called psittacofulvins that are not found in other birds or plants. As a result, the brightness of their feathers is not affected by their diet."

"The nanostructures in the blue feathers reflect blue light rays in an orderly way, in which they reinforce each other. If we were to shine white light from behind a blue feather of a male Indigo Bunting, it would appear brown-black due to the melanin in it. Meanwhile, its green feathers are colored by the combination of the blue light reflected by its structural composition and the yellow color of its carotenoid pigment."

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