RESEARCH: The Hummingbird is the most colourful bird in the world

A research study published in June 2022 in the Communications Biology journal found that the Hummingbird species, collectively, is more colourful than any other type of bird.

One way to measure colourfulness is to consider the theoretical total number of colours a bird can detect, and then estimate how many of these colours are produced on the feathers of the bird. Most birds can see more colours than humans can see because birds have extra receptors in their eyes to detect light in the ultraviolet (UV) spectrum of colour. Using this method, a 2011 study published in the Behavioral Ecology journal by researchers from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom and Yale University in America, found that birds typically produce on their feathers only about 30% of the colours they see. 

In this new 2022 study, Gabriela Venable at the Duke University in North Carolina, America, and her researchers, looked at 114 species of Hummingbirds. It is the first time that a group of related birds have been studied in relation to colourfulness.

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What are the seven types of bird feathers?

What are the seven types of bird feathers?

Birds of all species have feathers. 

There are a variety of feathers, but all feathers are made of beta-keratin, which is a protein. 

All feathers have similar elements: the calamus (the thick bottom part of the rachis or stem), the central rachis (like a stem going almost all the way up the feather), the barbs (like branches), and the barbules (like smaller branches with hooks that interlock with other barbules).

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Dinosaur Series: Epidexipteryx

The Epidexipteryx (Epidexipteryx hui) is a small pterosaur, a cousin of the dinosaur, in the Scansorioptergidae family. 

Palaeontologists found a partial skeleton, which was from the Middle Jurassic or Upper Jurassic period.

It had four long tail feathers with central, unbranched rachis (spines) and vanes. Modern birds have branched vanes. It also had simpler body feathers than modern-day birds. It had teeth, but only in the front of the jaw, with long front teeth angled forward.

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RESEARCH: Dark-feathered turkeys are bolder and more adventurous than light-feathered turkeys

Researchers think that the colour of a turkey’s feathers can determine how scared or fearful, or how bold and brave, it might be. 

The New Scientist magazine, in December 2021, writes that in Nigeria, at the Federal University of Agriculture in Abeokuta, agricultural scientists are studying the Common Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo). The Common Wild Turkey is a large bird in the Phasianidae family of pheasants, partridges, francolins, junglefowl, and grouse. It is a galliforme. The turkey can have black, white, or lavender feathers.

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RESEARCH: Waxbill birds have a social ranking based on the redness of their feathers

Researchers have found that the bird, the Common Waxbill (Estrilda astrild), chooses its leader based on the redness of its chest feathers. Leadership is not dependent upon intelligence, or size, or size of its family, or stress tolerance, or aggressiveness, or the wealth of the objects it collects – it is based on the colour of its feathers.

The study, reported in The New Scientist magazine in November 2021, found that a Waxbill’s social rank or dominance is linked to how richly red its chest feathers are. The rich red feathers are thought to be a signal of health. The redder the feathers, the healthier the bird, and the most likely it is to be a strong leader. 

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Flight: How do birds fly?

How do birds fly?

Not all birds fly. Some birds fly for short distances, and some birds can fly for long distances. Some birds can fly very high, and some birds stay close to the ground. 

To fly, birds need (1) wings, (2) flight muscles, (3) a streamlined body, (4) thin, light or hollow bones, and (5) strong but light flight feathers.

Birds need flight feathers on their wings and tail that let air flow through and around the feathers.

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Albert’s Lyrebird

The Albert’s Lyrebird (Menura alberti) is a large passerine songbird in the Menuridae family. It is a ground-dwelling bird. 

The Albert’s Lyrebird looks like a partridge or pheasant, with a plumpish body, slender neck, and a long tail. It has short, rounded wings, which makes them poor fliers.

When the tail is fanned out, the male’s large tail looks like a lyre musical instrument. His tail has 16 modified feathers. Two of the tail feathers, called medians, are broad, brown curved feathers with dark tips. There are also two thin dark feathers, called lyrates. The rest of the 12 tail feathers are white filamentaries.  

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Big bird feathers: Emu, Cassowary, Ostrich, and Rhea

What are the similarities and differences between big bird feathers – the feathers of the largest birds on earth?

The Emu, the Cassowary, the Ostrich, and the Rhea are large flightless ratite birds. The Emu is from Australia, the Cassowary is from northern Australia and New Guinea, the Ostrich is from countries in Africa, and the Rhea is from countries in South America.

Their wings have no keel (anchor) on their sternum (a long flat breastbone) to connect to their wing muscles, which means that the birds can’t fly. Therefore, their feathers are mainly decorative. 

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What is the difference between the Emu and the Rhea?

What is the difference between the Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) and the Greater Rhea (Rhea Americana)? 

The Emu and the Greater Rhea are large fightless birds. The Emu and the Greater Rhea are both ratites, because they cannot fly (the Ostrich, Kiwi, and Cassowary are also ratites).

The Emu and the Greater Rhea have a large, soft, grey-brown feathered body, a long featherless neck, and long featherless legs with three toes.

The Emu has orange-brown eyes, whereas the Greater Rhea has blue to brown eyes.

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Greater Rhea

The Greater Rhea (Rhea Americana) is a large bird. It is also known as the American Rhea. It cannot fly. Birds that cannot fly are called ratites. The Ostrich, Kiwi, and Cassowary are also ratites. 

The Greater Rhea is emu-like with a body of large fluffy grey or brown feathers, a long neck, and long legs. It has three toes like the emu (the ostrich has two toes). Its head, neck, rump, and thighs are feathered. 

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CREATURE FEATURE: Emu

The Emu (Dromaius novaehollandiae) is a large flightless Australian bird. It is a ratite. Ratites include the ostrich, kiwi, and cassowary.

The Emu has a large soft, shaggy, grey-brown-feathered body, a long almost featherless pale-blue neck, and long featherless legs with three-toed feet that have sharp claws and thick, cushioned pads. Its brown feathers have black tips. It has a soft short grey beak and grey legs.  It has orange-brown eyes.

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What are the similarities and differences between an American Fantail Pigeon and an Indian Fantail Pigeon?

The American Fantail (Columba livia) and the Indian Fantail (Columba livia) are both ornamental (or fancy) pigeons.

The American Fantail and the Indian Fantail both have fan-shaped tails with 30-40 feathers, compared to other pigeons that have 12-14 feathered tails.

The American Fantail and the Indian Fantail both have a pink beak and pink legs.

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Ostrich Wing: why the ostrich can’t fly

The Ostrich (Struthio camelus) is a large African flightless bird.

Its wings are also large, with a wingspan of about two metres (6 feet and 7 inches).

Ostriches have many differences from flying birds.

Flying birds have external feathers with hooks that lock together. The Ostrich external feathers do not have tiny hooks that lock together. These hooklets are called barbules. They zip the vanes of individual feathers together to make the feather strong enough to hold the airfoil (the shape of the wing that makes it aerodynamic). Similar foils in water are called hydrofoils.

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Schmalkalden Moorhead Pigeon

The Schmalkalden Moorhead (Columba livia) is a breed of fancy pigeon. This is called selective breeding in order to develop specific characteristics. It is a domestic pigeon from Germany.

The Schmalkalden Moorhead has an arched brown head, dark eyes, and a long neck with ruffled neck feathers. The white feathers are bent forward and cover the neck so that the pigeon looks as if it has a mane.

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