Red-bearded Bee-eater: Black inner feathers?

posted in: Morphology-Develop. | 7

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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 www.naturepixels.org and BESG to bring the study of bird behaviour through photography to a wider audience.

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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:
    http://i199.photobucket.com/albums/aa220/slybirdsly/Ornithology/Birds%20of%20the%20World%206/P1130241.jpg
    http://i199.photobucket.com/albums/aa220/slybirdsly/Ornithology/Birds%20of%20the%20World%206/P1130240.jpg
    http://i199.photobucket.com/albums/aa220/slybirdsly/Ornithology/Birds%20of%20the%20World%206/P1130239.jpg

    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

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

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  3. You were right! There’s green, then light gray, then black. I don’t know how the color is distributed because I can’t ruffle up the specimen, but gently lifted a few feathers and saw the black:

    http://i199.photobucket.com/albums/aa220/slybirdsly/Ornithology/Birds%20of%20the%20World%206/P1160687.jpg

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

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  5. 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!

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  6. Yes, Roger, you are making plenty of people excited.

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  7. 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:
    http://slybird.blogspot.com/search/label/Ornithology%20Class

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