It all started when we posted an image by Roger Moo of a Red-bearded Bee-eater (Nyctyornis amictus) fluffing its feathers. Roger noticed that although the back plumage is green, the inner feathers are black.
Most birders would be familiar with the green and red plumage of this bee-eater, especially the distinctive shaggy red beard characteristic of the species. But black feathers underneath the colourful superficial plumage?
Nick Sly of Biological Ramblings, operating from Ithaca, NY, United States read the post and commented: “I’m not so sure that is black underneath. Here are some pictures of specimens I took a few months ago: 1, 2, and 3.
“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.”
Well, Nick did visit the Cornell University’s museum again and examined a specimen: “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: image here.”
Roger Moo was ecstatic when he saw the tag on Nick’s latest image of the bee-eater specimen with the words “Federated Malay States” and commented that FMS is “…now known as Malaysia and this is where I shot the bird in digital. Which means this bird specimen was caught long before our country’s independence, say some time before the year 1957 or probably as early as 1940-45 before the 2nd World War!” Nick further informed that the bird is “…part of the collection of Frank S. Wright … and … they date from the late 1800’s to very early 1900’s, so even before WWII.”
Since Nick, all the way in the US, took the trouble to examine a specimen collected from this part of the world, we here in Singapore could not sit back and do nothing. So on 30th July, KC Tsang and YC visited Wang Luan Keng at the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, National University of Singapore and got Luan to retrieve a specimen.
We photographed a specimen (above) and some small loose feathers that were found (left). The feathers have very faint, light green tips that only appear dark green when stacked one over the other in the plumage. The lower part of the feather is black. This further confirms Nick’s observations.
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.