Plumage coloration helps reproduction, survival

Charlotte's Web - Spinning Tales


The painted bunting male of the cardinal family has a unique blue head and red, green and yellow body.

Viera Voice photo

Spinning tales about bird plumage.

Seemingly, some birds glow in colors of the rainbow. Others are adorned in duller dominant browns and grays. Actually, plumage coloration promotes reproduction and survival.

Plumage is replaced by molting, according to the juvenile stage, wear or season. Almost all birds molt at least once or twice or three times annually.

Actually, all birds display basic plumage. In some species, this definitive plumage remains. For example, some birds living on or near the ground are disguised in inconspicuous feathers. In other pairs, both might be colorful when the female is concealed in tree hollows for nesting.

With many birds, during the spring or summer mating season, a male might attract a mate by molting from basic non-breeding plumage to vibrant alternate (nuptial) breeding plumage. This brilliant ornamentation also flaunts vitality to a prospective mate. The female’s non-demonstrative plumage offers protection when incubating in a vulnerable tree nest.

Is the bluebird really blue? In fact, the visual blue results from the way the particular structure of the feather interacts with light-structural color. Therefore, blue light is refracted. Yet, when the feather is backlighted, brown from melanin pigmentation is obvious. (Fortunately, for birds that are blue, some predators do not see blue.)

Is the cardinal really red? Yes! The red is created by pigments in its food such as seeds and red dogwood berries, which are a favorite. If its feathers were ground, the powder would remain red. A rarer form of mutation can render the cardinal yellow.

Research proposes that some male and female birds are evolving into similar plumage. However, the following male songbirds are beguiling in bright plumage — outshining their mates!

The painted bunting male of the cardinal family is called nonpareil (without equal) with its unique blue head and red, green and yellow body. The female has greenish camouflage. Unfortunately, the male often is captured in Central America and sold as a cage bird. This species spends winters in southern Florida.

The indigo bunting male of the cardinal family displays vivid blue, sometimes with just the head colored indigo — a scrap of sky with wings. It also is identified as the blue canary with its bouncy song. The female is brown. Migration often occurs at night with guidance from the stars. In captivity, this bird is disoriented at migration time since it is unable to see the stars. This species breeds in the summer in most of Florida.

The eastern bluebird male of the thrush family exhibits a vibrant blue back, a rust throat and breast and white belly. The female is muted. The bluebird is symbolic of happiness. Too weak to excavate, it uses abandoned nests (a secondary cavity nester) and birdhouses. This species remains in Florida throughout the year, except in the southern part.

The scarlet tanager male of the cardinal family is aflame in red, accentuated with black wings and tail. The female is camouflaged green above and yellow below. From high in the forest canopy to avoid predators, the male’s distinct song sounds like a robin with a sore throat. This species migrates through Florida.

To witness a bedecked male, one needs to undertake a nature walk in breeding locations (check online). Become part of the silence, cling to the binoculars and patiently wait for a song or a splash of color.