What accounts for the different colors of bird feathers?

Birds Read more from
Chapter Animal World

No. Among the flightless birds, the penguins and the ratites are the best known. Ratites include emus, kiwis, ostriches, rheas, and cassowaries. They are called ratite because they lack a keel on the breastbone. All of these birds have wings but lost their power to fly millions of years ago. Many birds that live isolated on oceanic islands (for example, the great auk) apparently became flightless in the absence of predators and the consequent gradual disuse of their wings for escape.

The vivid color of feathers is of two kinds: pigmentary and structural. Red, orange and yellow feathers are colored by pigments called lipochromes deposited in the feather barbules as they are formed. Black, brown, and gray colors are from another pigment, melanin. Blue feathers depend not on pigment but on scattering of shorter wavelengths of light by particles within the feather. These are structural feathers. Green colors are almost always a combination of yellow pigment and blue feather structure. Another kind of structural color is the beautiful iridescent color of many birds, which ranges from red, orange, copper, and gold to green, blue, and violet. Iridescent color is based on interference that causes light waves to reinforce, weaken, or eliminate each other. Iridescent colors may change with the angle of view.


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