Last week, we looked at what gives feathers their range of dull and vibrant colors, comparing reality to the LIVING COLOR of 20th century technology. Fifty years after color TV’s became popular and affordable, our technology has greatly improved. Now we have iPad’s with “Retina display” and “rich color saturation”. So how does this newer digital version of “Living Color” compare to reality?
On one level, I think it depends on your point of view. A human-centric perspective differs from a bird-centric perspective. For example, humans don’t see UV light but birds do. Porphyrins, one of the color-producing pigments, fluoreses “a bright red when exposed to ultraviolet light”. This means that feathers may have colors that are invisible to us but visible to birds; this visiblity may have important consequences. According to this Minnesota DNR website, “A female bird might choose a mate based on the brightness of his ultraviolet feathers.” Click here to see a bird as viewed under UV light.
But on a deeper level, reality is more than merely how something looks. It also has to do with how things function and interact within their environment.
Here’s one example of function: birds use colored feathers to regulate their body temperature. Light colors reflect heat, while dark colors absorb heat. That’s why you sometimes see birds orienting themselves towards direct sunlight or away from direct sunlight
And here’s an example of how they interact: birds sometimes need to be seen, while at other times they need to hide in plain sight. If you’re looking for a mate, you want to be noticed. But if you’re hiding from a predator, the opposite is true. You want to blend in.
Last week, we learned that the blue color is a structural color, which comes from the feather’s microscopic structures and the way in which they scatter light. Here’s what the Minnesota DNR has to say about Blue jay feathers: blue jays “have a “a layer of bubblelike cells. These bubbles reflect and scatter blue light waves….That’s why the blue jay’s feathers look blue in sunlight.”
But these feathers also have have “melanin below the surface…in the shade, the melanin shows up better, and the feathers look blue-gray.”
So in reality, feather colors serve a useful purpose; they allow birds to regulate their temperature and to choose when and when not to be seen.
There’s no question that iPads with “retina display” are cool tools. But I still think reality is cooler. And as you can see from this video, mistaking appearance for reality can cause problems.
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, March 6, 13, 20, & 27.
Saturday mornings, March 2 & 16.
Saturday, February 23, 1:00 – 3:00 PM. “Early Spring Wildflowers” at Towsley Canyon. Meet in the parking lot at the gate. Click here for a map and directions.
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