Colorful Wings

 

Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) with Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens)  looking on.  Green Island, Texas. March. Photographer: Peter Cavanagh

Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja) with Reddish Egret (Egretta rufescens) looking on. Green Island, Texas. March. Photographer: Peter Cavanagh

Charles Darwin discovered that the bright color of many male birds provides an advantage in the choice of a mate. This is because female birds are attracted to most vibrant males. These brilliant colors have also been detrimental for a number of bird species— such as the Roseate Spoonbill (above).

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the beautiful pink wing feathers of both male and female Roseate Spoonbills were highly prized by the “plume set” for adornment of hats and dresses. John James Audubon is reported to have seen Roseate Spoonbill wings for sale as fans in Florida. This species was almost eliminated from the southern US by 1920 because of the fashion trade.

Red-footed Booby (Sula sula) Kilauea National Wildlife Refuge, Kaua’i, Hawaii. February. Photographer: Peter Cavanagh

Red-footed Booby (Sula sula) Kilauea National Wildlife Refuge, Kaua’i, Hawaii. February. Photographer: Peter Cavanagh

The color of wing feathers may also have some functional significance. Notice that the visible tips of both primary and secondary feathers in the wings of the Red-footed Booby (above) are black. This is a feature shared by many birds. It is believed that black wing feathers and black wingtips are extremely durable and resistant to breakdown. Keeping flight feathers in good condition between annual molts is important for flight performance.

LEARN MORE ABOUT COLORFUL WINGS

KIDS QUESTION: In the museum exhibit, we asked: What other large pink bird can you name?

The answer is: The Flamingo
he Roseate Spoonbill can be seen in the southern US and is sometimes confused with the American Flamingo (Phoenicopterus ruber) but flamingos are almost never seen in the US except in zoos.