Tag Archives: Red-winged Blackbird male

Of Rock and Reed, and Sun and Sand – Morning Scenes from Cape Ann’s Beautiful Backshore

Beautiful, beautiful Cape Ann spring awakening. Photos from Monday’s fine April morning.

Sing, sing sing Red-winged Blackbird! 

Almost daybreak at Good Harbor Beach

Backshore Sunrise. The sun was rising on the way to Brace Cove

Niles Pond

Painted Turtles and a female Red-breasted Merganser were basking on the warm rocks while a flock of Quarky Pants were roosting in the trees. Happy Spring!

I’ve never seen so many Black-crowned Night Herons–TEN all together in the trees and at the water’s edge.

Salt Island and Thacher Island Daybreak

BEAUTIFUL, BEAUTIFUL GOOD HARBOR BEACH

Scenes from this morning’s Good Harbor Beach sunrise.

Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Sunrise Kim Smith

Pink and violet hues when I arrived at 5:15 quickly gave way to reds and yellow, and then the looming gray mass of clouds overtook the sky.

Good Harbor Beach Gloucester Sunrise -2 Kim SmithGood Harbor Beach Gloucester Sunrise -3 Kim SmithBeauty abounds–from the grandest skies to the smallest creatures–that’s life at the edge of the sea.

Sparrow Gloucester Massachusetts Kim SmithThis fearless little Song Sparrow ate breakfast at my feet

Red-winged Blackbird Gloucester Massachusetts Kim SmithMorning songster

Kildeer Gloucester Massachusetts Kim SmithKildeer trying her hardest to distract me from her nest

HOW COLOR IS CREATED IN BIRD FEATHERS

In thinking about how colors are created in bird feathers, I wondered if it was similar to how color is formed in butterfly wings. I learned that yes, it is very similar, and that bird feather color has evolved in several ways, from pigmentation present or as a result of light refracting through the layered structure of the feather.

Northern Cardinal Male Kim SmithColor from Pigment

Pigments are colored material found in plants, animals, and nearly every physical substance in nature. Pigmentation in birds comes from three different sources: melanins, carotenoids, and porphyrines.

Melanins are tiny bits of color in the feathers of birds and in their skin. Melanins produce colors from palest yellow to rusty red browns to the richest black, depending on where the melanin is located and in what degree of concentration. Feathers with melanin are the strongest of all. A bird’s flight feathers are the most susceptible to wear and usually have the highest degree of melanin.

Red-winged Blackbird male Kim SmithAmerican Robin Kim SmithRed-winged Blackbirds and American Robins are strong flyers. Their flight feathers have rich concentrations of melanin.

Carotenoids are produced by plants. Birds that eat specific plants, or eat something that has eaten the plant, acquire pigment from carotenoids. A carotenoid-rich diet is responsible for the beautiful vermillion feathers of the Northern Cardinal, as well as the electrifying cadmium yellow of the male American Goldfinch. Another example is the pink feathers of the flamingo, which also have a diet rich in carotenoids that come from the crustaceans that they eat, which ate algae. Melanins and carotenoids can interact to produce feathers such as olive green.

The third group of pigments are called porphyrins and they are the rarest, found only in a handful of bird families. Porphyrins are produced by modified amino acids and all share a common trait, which is to fluoresce bright red when exposed to ultraviolet light. Porphyrins are found in some pigeons, owls, and turacos.

The intensity of the red of the Northern Cardinal is an example of how feather color plays an important role in the survival of a species. Cardinal foods high in carotenoids include rose hips and dogwood berries. The brightest red birds usually have superior breeding territories, with the greatest abundance of their preferred foods. The reddest birds make the most successful parents because of their ability to bring an increased amount of food to the nestlings. When Cardinals are raised in captivity on a diet lacking in carotenoids, with each successive molt, the feathers become paler and paler.

Like butterflies, birds can see color in the ultraviolet spectrum (we humans cannot). Perhaps the way we see birds is entirely different from they way they see themselves!

Part Two Structural Color continued tomorrow.

Red-winged Blackbird in flight male KIm SmithMale Red-winged Blackbird