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Bird Colors

July 7, 2011

A new study looks at the world through the eyes of birds.

Transcript

BOB HIRSHON (host):

The colorful world of bird vision…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Birds come in a dazzling array of feather colors. But their plumages appear even more colorful to the birds themselves. That’s because feathers are infused with varying amounts of ultraviolet, which birds can see, but we can’t. Despite this explosion of color, Cambridge zoologist Mary Caswell Stoddard of says many colors that birds can see, like ultraviolet yellows and reds, simply haven’t evolved yet in bird plumages. She and her colleagues mapped out just how colorful birds are from a bird’s eye view.

MARY CASWELL STODDARD (University of Cambridge):

Those plumage colors only filled about one third of the possible colors that birds can observe.

HIRSHON:

She says flowers can produce many colors in the bird visual range that birds themselves cannot.

STODDARD:

So it’s very interesting to think about why bird plumages mechanistically are unable to make some colors that plants can.

HIRSHON:

I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.