Red-bearded Bee-eater: Black inner feathers?

on 28th July 2008

Most birders are familiar with the green plumage of the Red-bearded Bee-eater (Nyctyornis amictus) – and of course the distinctive shaggy red beard characteristic of the species.

But how many are aware that hidden under the external green feathers are black feathers?

Roger Moo a.k.a. cactus400D photographed a Red-bearded Bee-eater when it was fluffing its plumage and noticed that the inner feathers are black. He wonders:

“We all thought the feather are all green till he flutters his wings and feathers… underneath are all black. Here are two photos…”

Bird photographer KC Tsang believes that the blackness is not due to photographic artifact. Field ornithologist Wang Luan Keng informs that the body feathers of birds may be of a different colour from that of the external feathers. Also, the lower portion of a feather may be differently coloured from that of the upper portion. This may not be always obvious as the lower portion is usually covered, due to the overlapping of feathers.

A physical examination of the feathers of a live or preserved specimen will provide a more definite answer.

All images by Roger Moo.

This post is a cooperative effort between and BESG to bring the study of bird behaviour through photography to a wider audience.

If you like this post please tap on the Like button at the left bottom of page. Any views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors/contributors, and are not endorsed by the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM, NUS) or its affiliated institutions. Readers are encouraged to use their discretion before making any decisions or judgements based on the information presented.

YC Wee

Dr Wee played a significant role as a green advocate in Singapore through his extensive involvement in various organizations and committees: as Secretary and Chairman for the Malayan Nature Society (Singapore Branch), and with the Nature Society (Singapore) as founding President (1978-1995). He has also served in the Nature Reserve Board (1987-1989), Nature Reserves Committee (1990-1996), National Council on the Environment/Singapore Environment Council (1992-1996), Work-Group on Nature Conservation (1992) and Inter-Varsity Council on the Environment (1995-1997). He is Patron of the Singapore Gardening Society and was appointed Honorary Museum Associate of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) in 2012. In 2005, Dr Wee started the Bird Ecology Study Group. With more than 6,000 entries, the website has become a valuable resource consulted by students, birdwatchers and researchers locally and internationally. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own, and do not represent those of LKCNHM, the National University of Singapore or its affiliated institutions.

Other posts by YC Wee

7 Responses

  1. This is one of my favorite Bee-eaters!

    I’m not so sure that is black underneath. Here are some pictures of specimens I took a few months ago:

    It looks like just normal light grey showing through from underneath, but there could be black too. If I get the opportunity, I’ll take a look at my museum’s specimen again.

    ~ Nick

  2. Thanks Nick. If you could get you hands at a museum’s specimen, would appreciate if you could check and let us know.

  3. Thanks again Nick. And thanks to your comments, we will be getting a specimen to make detailed examinations. So stay tuned.

  4. Interesting indeed, Nick! Never knew it would attract some good observations and comments from across the continent.

    I do noticed that the specimen was from Cornell University, a world class university. And stated on the bird’s tag was the words “Federated Malay States” which was again rather interesting.

    Today it is known as Malaysia and this is where I shot the bird in digital.

    Which means this bird specimen was caught way long before our country independence, say some time before the year 1957 or probably as early as 1940-45 before the 2nd World War!

    Interesting indeed!

  5. You are a good observer, Roger! That bird is part of the collection of Frank S. Wright as you read. I don’t know the specifics of this collection but I have run into a bunch of them in my work at CUMV and know they date from the late 1800’s to very early 1900’s, so even before WWII.

    As a personal aside, if you are interested in seeing more from this “world class university” that I love so dearly, check out my posts here, from when I was a teaching assistant for the Ornithology class. I stopped posting in the middle of the semester but will be continuing again shortly:

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