Feathers of a Bird Together They Stick

Let’s look at one parrot feather. Since blue is my favorite color we will look at a blue feather. They are so colorful but what is their source of color? There are two possibilities. The color may be intrinsic, based on pigmentation, or it may be the result of structure causing refraction of light. Intrinsic color would be found if the structure of the feather would be examined microscopically using transmitted or incident lighting. The simplest thing to do is to look at the feathers with the microscope.

I made two questions for the observations.

  • Is the feather one piece or is it made of multiple repeating parts that attach to one another forming one.
  • What is the source of the color in the feather where it appeared blue on the outer most surface (dorsal side) and yellow on the inner most side (ventral surface)?
  • I expected that under the microscope the feather might be simply dark grey. If it were blue then the color would be derived from refraction. If it were colorful (polychromatic) then the color would be intrinsic mineral or organic pigment.

To assist in observation, I used a microscope with cell phone camera which was already described in an earlier post. The two lenses used were 4x and 10x. These low power lenses are sufficient to give useful results. Incident and transmitted white light was used for illumination. No polarization was used.

These are paired photos of the same feather showing opposite sides with incident lighting

Fig 1. Parrot feather, top side, incident white light
Fig 2. Parrot feather, bottom side, incident white light
Fig 3. Feather anatomy: The calamus(quill) is the end of the rachis (center shaft(. Originating from the rachis are the inner and outer vanes made of barbs and barbules.
Fig 4. Microscopic 10x view of feather anatomy, top side, incident light.
Fig 5. 10X microscopic view of feather bottom side. Incident light.
Fig 6. 10x microscopic view of feather top side. Incident light.

Note that the barbules and the rachis are darker brown pigment suggesting the presence of melanin pigment and not blue. The apparent blue color is derived mostly from refraction caused by light interacting with the structure of the feather not by pigment. The yellow is most likely derived from a carotenoid pigment. The barbs refract the incident light and thus constitute the majority of the color.

Fig 7. 4X microscopic view with light reflected from the front of the feather. The barbs appear blue because of refraction of light from the barbs which act like a prisim.
Fig 8. 4x microscopic view with light transmitted through the back of the feather. It lacks blue because there is no refraction.

Parrots produce psittacofulvins, a type of red to yellow pigment that’s not found in any other type of vertebrate. These include carotenoids which are yellows and reds, malanoids which are browns and blacks and porphyrins which produce pinks, browns and greens in some birds.* The porphyrins may also fluoresce.** Blue color is the result of iridescence (additive interference), non-iridesence (destructive interference) and defraction. It is not the result of pigmentation. Interference and refraction are physical behaviors of light as it passes through certain media.***

Bird feathers are made of repeating barbed structures that can stick to one another like VelcroTM. The interlocking is very efficient. It is sufficiently strong to withstand the forces of gravity and flight generated by the bird. If some become disengaged they can be physically reconnected through the grooming process of preening. They are resistant to unzipping even when wet. However when wet, the air filled spaces can obviously entrap water. The weight of trapped water may be sufficient to destabilize aerodynamics and probably jeopardize the flight parameters of weight and balance. It is the repeating structural make-up of the feather that bends the light and allows it to fluoresce and at the same time permits flight.

The barbs are colored on the multiple surface areas. Apparently the color in the material contributes to the strength of the vane. Melanin and carotenoids improve the strength. This would suggest that birds with variegated color have strength distribution consistent with the colors. Colors are also helpful in bird identification by people. They are also important in bird-to-bird display for mate selection and for territorial dominance display.

Note how the barbules are partially zipped together. This zipping and unzipping can be repeated with preening
Fig 9. This transmitted light photomicrograph of the dorsal view of the feather shows how the barbules are partially zipped together. This can be zipped and unzipped with preening. It also shows that the barbs are not blue when viewed by transmitted light.

In summary the answer to the color source question is both intrinsic and refracted light. The blue coloration in the feathers here is the result of optical interpretation of pigments and refracted light. The structure and color of the feather are directly related.

We will see the effects of viewing feathers under ultraviolet light in another posting.

We will look at the cormorant like Anhinga as they dive for fish in another posting.

*Cooke et al. Genetic Mapping and Biochemical Basis of Yellow Feather Pigmentation in BudgerigarsCell, 2017 DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2017.08.016

**Cornel lab/bird academy/articles/ how birds make colorful feathers

***Irridesence

#bird blue color #refraction # feather photomicrograph #rachis #barbs #vanes #melanin #carotenins #porphyrins

Parrot Heads

No. No. No. This is not about Jimmy Buffet music fans. It really is about parrot profile pictures. While wandering about the Everglades Garden here in Bonita Springs Florida I had the opportunity to visit with my friends the parrots. In an omage to them here is a collection of some of their portraits. The birds seem to want to have their photos made. I think that the colors are breathtaking. The combinations of chroma, hue and value are so bold and vivid. The juxtaposition of these colors seems so uninhibited. The mixed patterns of texture with color is unexpected yet perfectly appropriate. We will explore them in greater detail later. Now, I’m simply allowing them to show off in their portraits.

Admittedly two of these are cacatoo but all are approximately the same size. Additionally, I have not included the parakeets or lorikeets. However, I think that this small sample is a good day’s feast for the eyes. Enjoy!

#parrot #coccatoo #feathers #colors #hue #chroma #value #texture

Humans in Parrot Captivity

Interesting title?

If you have a human living with you, you will understand the title. We parrots, living with the humans, are very clever. We have prehensile claws, can use tools, use logic to extend our adaptation to captivity and are able to communicate including talking in human languages. Humans make ideal pets for the parrots. Humans have prehensile hands, are very clever, can use tools, use logic to extend their adaptation to their environment and can talk. This sounds like a good match. Sometimes the human logic is a bit strange and human’s ability to speak in parrot is poor. Fortunately they can be trained! But they make up their shortcommings in other ways like following commands and bringing food.

Have a look at Floyd, a green Amazon parrot and Nick his pet grey haired human. They have been together for about 40 years. Floyd formerly resided in Michigan and recently moved to California. Since he has forgotten how to fly, he took an airplane to get to his new home. Floyd shares the free range of the house with his humans, eats dinner at the family dining table, and has a girlfriend with whom he currently cohabitates. He eats his own special diet prepared by his private chef (Nick). He visits his doctor on a regular basis to stay in tip-top health. Floyd is very sociable and engages his pet (Nick) in endless hours of conversation where they discuss Michigan State University sports. To entertain Nick, Floyd spontaneously breaks into the MSU song which Nick finds immensely amusing.

Floyd and his pet human, Nick. Note the happy smile on Nick’s face.
Floyd is an early riser. He patiently paces around his wire security cage vocalizing loudly with screeching until his human fixes his breakfast of toast. To keep the human focused, he has to share his breakfast with the human. He patiently keeps Nick’s attention from wandering by sitting on his shoulders or head.
Humans are really fussy about house keeping and table manners. They are constantly cleaning the table, cage, floor, etc. It is unbelievable.
Climbing on John’s leg to get a better view is discouraged because he is taking the picture.
Just hanging out with the people.

Some people are just party animals. It is great to join in the fun!

From a human perspective, a remarkable relationship can be forged with these animals and all of the varieties of this species. In some instances captive parrots are “rescued”. They may have been injured, disabled or simply abandoned. Illegal capture and importation of them to be sold to collectors should be severely punished. Release of non-native species is also illegal and alternative options are available. The best place for these animals is in their wild environments where their diversity and habitats are protected. I highly recommend that you go to the shelters where you can see and visit with them as well as support their maintenance. The Wonder Gardens and the Naples Zoo are two great places for this.

In subsequent postings we will see more varieties and colors of these birds.

#parrots #parrots and humans #Wonder Garden #Naples Zoo #Floyd and Nick

Parrots

Some of my favorite birds are parrots. They are remarkably colorful and intelligent. Their behavior in the wild is wonderful to watch and to hear. In captivity their behavior makes them interesting playmates that can learn to sing and speak. This blog is an introduction to an extended discussion on parrots and later, other bird species. I would like to introduce some of them to you. This may help you to understand the birds in Florida. 

While in Central America I watched flocks of parrots raucously flying through the rain forests of the Osa Peninsula, National Conservancy of Costa Rica and in ruins of the Mayan city of Tikal in Honduras. I watched them fly through the forests and among the Mayan pyramids. They typically inhabit climates that are warm or temperate to tropical. I have even seen non-indigenous green parrots flying between the buildings of South Miami Beach here in Florida. Characteristics to look for include hooked beaks and two pair of opposing toes in each of their claws (zygodactyl feet). These two types of invasive birds are Monk parakeets and the Red Crowned Amazon. The only native to Florida is now extinct.

The various types of parrots include:

Parrots (Psittaciformes)- a generic term usually applied to a variety birds of three families; Strigopoidea, Psittacoidea and Cacatuoidea. These comprise:

  • Macaw – a large bird long living bird with rainbow color feathers
  • Amazon – a large, usually green body with yellow head and crest
  • Lorikeet – small to medium size similar to parakeet but longer tail and more colorful plumage
  • Parakeet – a small bird frequently kept as domestic pets with a variety of pastel colors
  • Cocatoo – a medium size bird with prominent crests and curved bills, less colorful than that of other parrots, often with colored accents in the crest, cheeks or tail. 
  • Budgerigar – a member of the Lori family with green, yellow and black coloration
This feral scarlet macaw was feeding in the costal rain forest of the Osa peninsula of Costa Rica. It was one of about 14 birds in the flock and was feeding on the fruit of the tree. The heavy beak was able to crush the fruit with modest effort. 
Another scarlet macaw of the same flock eating upside down. The prehensile claws allow remarkable gymnastic holds as it feeds. This group was quite noisy as they were feeding and flying about in the midafternoon of a spring day.
This scarlet macaw was sitting on a fence surrounding a bird shelter in the forest just outside of the Mayan pyramid site in Copan Honduras. The color and pattern seems identical to those in Costa Rica.
Here is the difference between our friends in Copan and Osa. The birds in Osa are free ranging and are not at immediate risk. Those at Copan, although they are free ranging, are at risk and are promoted with food and nests that protect them. The blue plastic barrel fastened to a tree as shown in the photo was modified for their use. It provides lots of protection from predators. 
These beauties are caged in the Naples Zoo and are very well cared for. They are of two different families, a Blue and Yellow African and a Scarlet Macaw. They are engaged in mutual preening. This type of behavior may promote hormonal induced mating behavior***. I have never seen them fly. Often times captive parrots are rescued and can’t or forget how to fly.

Parrots are noted for their longevity and in captivity may live for 80 years. They are remarkably intelligent with large vocabularies* and apparent logical skills. They are able to use tools and to solve problems**.

Greg Bush brings a variety of his birds to the Wonder Gardens. He is a great resource for the visitors who may hold his birds and learn about their behavior, habitats and keeping these wonderful birds in captivity. He also spoke about the possible predation and need for protection from native passing Osprey and Hawks while they are out of their cages. Don’t pet the parrot down the back, tail feathers or under the wings unless you want frustrated parrot behavior***. We may visit Greg’s home to see his friends in the future.

* PĂ©ron F, Rat-Fischer L, Lalot M, Nagle L, Bovet D. Cooperative problem solving in African grey parrots (Psittacus erithacus). Anim Cogn. 2011 Jul;14(4):545-53. doi: 10.1007/s10071-011-0389-2. Epub 2011 Mar 8. PMID: 21384141.

** Bates M., Problem-Solving Parrots Understand Cause and Effect, Science Oct,17,2013 https://www.wired.com/author/mary-bates

*** Borroughs D, Hormonal Behavior in Parrots, https://birdsupplies.com/blogs/news/96593031-how-to-pet-a-parrot

#parrot #Costa Rica #Honduras #Osa #Copan #captive #feral #zygodactyl feet #beak #parrot behavior

 

Vanilla

Yes. Vanilla is a member if the orchid family. Vanilla flavor is a very popular ingredient added to foods. Perhaps as much as 98% of this flavor is made artificially and is called vanillin. This is because of the great labor expense to cultivate, harvest and process the vanilla bean (pod) and seeds. It starts out as a fertilized flower which develops a pod filled with seeds. The fertilization was done by insects especially bees when originally found in Madagascar. Today however, the favored bee is either in such diminished numbers or may be extinct in some areas that the flowers are never pollinated. Much of the natural product that we have in the USA comes from Mexico. To produce the bean, human intervention is therefore necessary to carry out the insemination process.

The plants are interesting because they start out rooted in the soil and then embrace a tree or trellace to gain height in their search for sunlight and nutrients. I found two sources of vanilla plants in my exploration of SWFL. One is at the Wonder Garden in Bonita Springs FL and a group are at the Edison and Ford Winter Estate in Fort Myers FL.

Vanilla orchid embracing a tree in the Edison and Ford Winter Estate, Fort Myers, Fl. Note the blooms which need pollination to produce fruit.

The plant in The Wonder Garden in Bonita Springs FL is very similar or identical to the plant captioned above. In fact is may be a sibling. I was surprised to see that the plant at the Wonder Garden was no longer attached to the soil and was therefore a true air plant like a typical orchid.

Vanilla plants for sale at the Wonder Garden

In another blog we can see various forms of orchids which are not typical of the florid plants that we appreciate so much.

#Vanilla #orchid #pollination #flavor

Orchid Varieties

Orchids are some of my favorite plants because their flowers are very beautiful and they are easy to grow here in South West Florida. This blog is a brief introduction to for a hobbyist to grow in their home or in their garden.

Phalaenopsis from my home garden.

These are favorite delights in my garden, the Wonder Garden as well as The Edison and Ford Winter garden.

During my exploration of SWFL I found other orchids that were fascinating. Below you will see some interesting samples of orchids. These include pitcher plants, vanilla, lady slipper, phaleanopsis, cattleyela and dendrobium. There are thousands of orchid varieties in a rainbow of colors,

Pitcher plant from the Wonder Garden.
Vanilla from the Edison and Ford Winter Garden
Lady Slipper growing wild in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina Spring 2021. An endangered species.
Phalaenopsis orchid cultivated in the Biltmore estate greenhouse, Ashville NC. A non-endangered lady slipper.

The plants showed here are a small part of the orchid family. Check out some information about The pitcher plant and Venus fly trap at carnivorous plants.

Cattleya orchid growing on a tree at my house. Note the thick, water filled supporting stems and the more generous blossoms.
Here are two types of commonly grown orchids. The Dendrobium is on the left. It has a cane like stem with leaves at regular intervals. The Phalaenopsis on the right side has the broad thick leaves that seem to grow from the base of the plant near the air root ball. These are from my garden and they bloom in the spring and perhaps twice per year depending on weather conditions. Most of the orchids are cultivated and available for purchase. I frequently support our local growers such as Sundance Orchids and Bromeliads. At Sundance, they cultivate and propagate their own stock and are vary knowledgable. Native Floridian orchids are rare to find in the wild especially with urban development. I continue to look for them and will report on them when I find them.

Check put the numerous references for help in identifying and caring for orchids. I do have some recommendations for out-of-door orchid care in Florida.

  • Grow in moderate, not direct sunlight.
  • Water when the air roots are dry. This is usually every three days if there is no rain.
  • After they loose the flowers, cut back the blossom stem just above the node nearest to the base.
  • Cutoff any the portion of any leaf with black mould.
  • Spray with insecticide plant soap every two weeks.
  • Fertilize once every two to four weeks with 20-14-30

Here is a reference for carnivorous plants like the pitcher plant and the Venus fly trap: Carnivorous plants

For those interested in the cattleya orchid: Catlleyea for beginners

If you grow the phaleanopsis link to: How to care for phaleanopsis.

Here is the new location in the courtyard that is adjacent to the house, under the cover of the roof line and has indirect sunlight all day. The newly installed water supply is set to a garden hose timer with micro sprinklers to spray the plants. The because they are air plants they absorb water through the leaves and air roots. In the center are the Dendrobium and Catteyelas. They are in recovery from over exposure to direct sun. The phaleanopsis have dropped most of their blooms and are ready to be trimmed. Trimming is done with a sharp razor in one clean stroke to prevent crushing. This test group is doing well after last year’s disastrous summer and winter. The hot dry summer and very cold winter resulted in the loss of dozens of orchids. During the next year these and new plants will replaced those lost and we should have a full garden again.

#Orchids, #lady slipper, #pitcher plant #dendrobium #phaleanopsis #cattleya #orchid care #carnivorous plants

Big birds of Two Feathers

Observation # 21

One of the most frequent behaviors of the Flamingos is preening their feathers. This is most often done in the morning and mid day hours. During this time they are often on the shallow area of the Flamingo Lagoon where they are less disturbed by the guests and the wild birds visiting the area. One of the native species that shares the deeper waters of the Lagoon is the Blue Heron. The activities and interactions between the two birds is quite different. The Flamingo is habituated to the Gardens area. It doesn’t fly and is fed on a routine basis. Its behavior is quite placid and its social activities are limited to the other flamingos of the group of four. The Great Blue Herron is solitary and independent of the Gardens. It flies in and out at will. The two species do not interact with one another despite their near equal size and proximity. Their feeding habits are very different and their beak shape reflects this. The flamingo is a bottom feeder and filters the food from the bottom of the shallows and from the surface of the soil. The Herron feeds by hunting for small prey and, with its rapier like bill, plucks its prey as live, individual pieces, usually insects and fish.

This wading Flamingo image is one of my favorites. The subtleties of color in the plumage just ask for looking. The color of the feathers are maintained by diet control. This observation is from the Epicollect5 observation #21.

Flamingo

The blue was just a lucky opportunity for observation. It ‘s grey blue coloration is the source of its name. He just flew in and began prowling the shallow greens for lunch. Here he picked his head up and extended his neck so that the meal he caught would pass easier down its long slim throat. I wonder if he isn’t the prototype for the Sesame Street character, “Big Bird”

Blue Herron IMG-8081.jpg
Birds of a feather? What do you think?

#Flamingo #Great Blue Herron #wading birds #feathers #birds

Marine life could be like this in South West Florida, 3/3

This is the last of the current blog series on the possible life in the reefs of the future in South West Florida. The images show the night photographs using fluorescent illumination. Using this technique, the color of the coral otherwise unseen to human vision becomes apparent. With this technology the coral reefs appear to be bejeweled and on fire with color from every aspect of the rainbow. The formations shown here are only a small sample of a much larger chaotic jumble of shapes, sizes and colors.

Brain coral about 2.5 M in diameter
In daylight this would appear to be a muted brown color. This formation is about one meter in diameter.

I hope that you enjoyed the pictures. Please support the efforts to build coral reefs in the Gulf waters surrounding the SWFL.

#marine life #reef #fluorescent #night dive #coral

Marine life could be like this in South West Florida, 2/3

This post is a continuation of the trilogy of my observations of the reef life of Belizean portion of the Caribbean barrier reef off the atolls of Turneffe. This selection of the wildlife was photographed during twilight dives. Photos were made with white light flash exposure.

This Squid was flashing colors. It is about 5cm in length. Watch out for the ink when they feel threatened!
A nice crab. The carapace diameter was about 20 cm.
There were hundreds of lobsters 20 years ago. Now I saw only two. They are seasonal. This one is about 1 kilo.
Hermit crab. The den opening is about 1.5 cm in diameter.

Twilight diving is an opportunity to see two types of marine life. The daylight creatures are looking for a place to hide and rest. The night time creatures are emerging from their hiding places among the coral reef crevices and begin their foraging and hunting. It is a very interesting time to see both behaviors.

The next blog includes reef life and was photographed using special techniques in total dark of night.

#marine life #reef #under water #crab # lobster #squid #Twilight dive

Marine life could be like this in South West Florida, 1/3

About two weeks ago, I had a chance to explore some of the marine life on the other side of the Gulf. Off the coast of Mexico and down further south to include Honduras, there is the second largest barrier reef. It is just a two hour flight away from us here in SWFL. I went specifically to the atolls of Turneffe off the coast of Belize. it was looking OK. The marine life density and diversity was good but not as dense as seen in the far western Pacific Ocean and the water clarity was 80 feet at best. There was some chop to the surface but no significant current at depth. The minimum and maximum dive depths were 35 to 90 feet msl.

There were certainly fewer Lion fish and I saw no bleached coral compared to what I saw here 5 years ago. Most of the area is part of their marine national park. Here are a few interesting photos of some of the many coral and small animals that I saw during the 25 dives. This first of three postings shows daylight fish, shrimp and other marine life. More shell fish and coral at night will follow in future postings.

This was a very healthy Lion fish. it was good that I saw only five of these spiny, toxic pests during the entire week. Three years ago I would see dozens.
I have not seen flamingo tongues like this attached to a fan coral in the last 5 years. Now I saw at least 15.
These sea tunicates were about 4mm in length and are very delicate. They are considered to be some of the most primitive life forms. I saw fewer of them than 20 years ago however they were still present in three widely dispersed areas.
Shrimp almost like a spider. 5mm in length.
These 4mm shrimp were nearly transparent. Can you see all four?
There were plenty of these big boys. The sharks were about 300 to 350 pounders and at least 12 foot long. They tended to swim in packs of three to six. Often when diving, they would follow our group to see if we were hunting the lion fish. During the last 12 years, divers have been busy spearing the lion fish and feeding them to the sharks with the hope of training the sharks to act as natural predators of this invasive species. There gave us no trouble despite swimming only a few feet away.
Did I tell you that my favorite color is blue? Check out these blue tangs.
Blue parrot fish.
Tube worm extended from brain coral. These are so colorful but very shy.
Fearsome but benign to people, green moray eel.

I believe that these observations are supported by this article. Local management matters for coral reefs
Knowlton, N., Science,  28 May 2021: Vol. 372, Issue 6545, pp. 908-909DOI: 10.1126/science.abi7286

“Despite the doom and gloom of media reports on the state of the ocean, and the enormous challenges that remain, there is growing recognition that marine conservation actions have had measurable success (1213). Indeed, local actions can not only minimize damage from warming, but provide biodiversity and food-security benefits as well (1214).”

Planting new coral specific for future warming of the water of the coast of Florida has started with the hope of developing new reefs and habitat for the fish and other life forms as well as to abate red tide. Check out these links:

FGCU Artificial Reef – Florida Gulf Coast University

FGCU plans new artificial reef

If you wish to support research and development of this worthy project link on the references and see how you can donate.

#marine life #underwater #reef #shark #shrimp #eel #lion fish #tunicates #worms

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