Flirtatious Feathers: A Colorful Collection of Bird Photographs

By Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

The images in this exhibition are part of Visual Resources for Ornithology, a photography collection representing more than 70 percent of the world's bird species. The collection is part of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.

Common Peafowl by © Jorge Sierra/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

It's Survival of the Flirtatious

Feathers serve birds in numerous ways, but it is through courtship that birds have acquired their rainbow of colors. Through sexual selection—survival of the flirtatious—birds have evolved colorful plumes that charm potential mates. Being brighter, fancier, and more colorful than competitors has outweighed the liabilities of carrying burdensome plumes and being more visible to predators. Photographs from VIREO have been instrumental in global conservation campaigns, bringing birds to life for all to see. The popular birding apps, BirdsEye and the Audubon Guides bird series, are filled with VIREO images and help inspire a new generation of naturalists to discover our planet’s amazing birds.

Hoatzin by © Glenn Bartley/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Hoatzin

Awkward in appearance, ungainly in flight, and unorthodox in its leaf eating habits, the Hoatzin is an avian gem of South American swamps. Scientific name: Opisthocomus hoazin. Ecuador: Napo River.

Andean Cock-of-the-Rock by © Glenn Bartley/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Andean Cock-of-the-Rock

Male cocks-of-the-rock gather in communal display grounds called leks to show their stuff with odd postures and calls and their outrageous plumage, all to entice females to mate. Scientific name: Rupicola peruvianus. Peru.

Booted Rackettail by © Glenn Bartley/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Booted Rackettail

Male hummingbirds do not take part in incubation or brood rearing. These birds are free to evolve brilliant colors and feather adornaments which draw unwanted attention from predators. Scientific name: Ocreatus underwoodii. Ecuador.

Burrowing Owl by © Rob Curtis/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Burrowing Owl

Allopreening (mutual feather grooming) likely reinforces pair bonds in owls, parrots and some other bird groups. Scientific name: Athene cunicularia. USA, California, Imperial County, Salton Sea National Wildlife Refuge.

Common Ostrich by © Ron Carmell/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Common Ostrich

Ostrich feathers lack the barbules that hold other feathers in a firm pattern needed for flight. Scientific name: Struthio camelus. Native to Africa.

Common Peafowl by © Jorge Sierra/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Common Peafowl

Through sexual selection -- female choice of the most elaborately decorated male -- peacocks have their colorful plumes. Peahens are drab in comparison. Scientific name: Pavo cristatus. Native to South Asia.

Eastern Bluebird by © Steve Greer/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Eastern Bluebird

Courtship feeding contributes to the male's own offspring by supplying additional nutrition to the female for eggs. Scientific name: Sialia sialus. USA: New Jersey.

Great Egret by © John Turner M.D./VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Great Egret

This egret's fancy plumes are displayed in courtship. Their popularity on ladies' hats nearly caused the demise of the species in America during the early 1900s. Scientific name: Ardea alba. USA: Louisiana, Lake Martin.

Indigo Bunting by © Brian E. Small/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Indigo Bunting

The blue coloring of the male Indigo Bunting's feathers comes from light scattering as it passes through tiny bubbles in the bird's feathers. Scientific name: Passerina cyanea. USA: Texas, Galveston County.

Layson Albatross by © Joe Fuhrman/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Layson Albatross

This posture is part of the elaborate courtship dance of the Layson Albatross. Scientific name: Phoebastria immutablis. USA: Hawaii, Midway Atoll.

Lilac-breasted Roller by © Warwick Tarboton/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Lilac-breasted Roller

A mixture of feather structure and pigments produce the elaborate color pattern of the Lilac-breasted Roller, Scientific name: Coracias caudautus. Republic of South Africa: Limpopo Province.

Long-tailed Widowbird by © Warwick Tarboton/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Long-tailed Widowbird

Female widowbirds prefer males with the longest tails, so sexual selection has led to these amazing feathers. Scientific name: Euplectes progne. Republic of South Africa: Mpumalanga Province.

Nicobar Pigeon by © Tom Friedel/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Nicobar Pigeon

This pigeon's white tail feathers remain mostly hidden when the bird is on the ground, but shine in flight, helping the flock stay together. Scientific name: Caloenus nicobarica. Native to the islands of Palau, the Malay Archipelago and the Solomons.

Painted Bunting by © Brian E. Small/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Painted Bunting

One of the gaudiest birds, the male Painted Bunting acquires his brilliant plumage in his second year. Females and young are olive green. Scientific name: Passerina ciris. USA: Texas, Galveston County.

Peach-faced Lovebird by © Warwick Tarboton/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Peach-faced Lovebird

Courtship feeding in lovebirds helps cement the pair bond. Scientific name: Agipornis roseicollis. Namibia: Usakos District.

Scarlet Macaw by © Kevin Schafer/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Scarlet Macaw

Male and female Scarlet Macaws both sport the same brilliant red, blue and yellow pattern on the wing. Species in which both sexes are brightly colored are usually monogamous. Scientific name: Ara macao. Native to Central and South America.

Resplendent Quetzal by © Robert Goodell/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Resplendent Quetzal

Irridescent green plumes stream over and beyond the tail in this bird, considered devine by the Aztecs and Mayans. Scientific name: Pharomachrus mocinno. Costa Rica: San Gerardo de Dota.

Roseate Spoonbill by © Arthur Morris/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Roseate Spoonbill

The brilliant pinks of the Roseate Spoonbill are from carotenid pigments derived from plants eaten by the spoonbills prey. Scientific name: Platalea ajaja. USA: Florida, Tampa Bay, Alafia Banks.

Amazonian Royal Flycatcher by © Doug Wechsler/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Amazonian Royal Flycatcher

This dull brown bird usually conceals its crest, but it provides a stunning display during courtship. Scientific name: Onychorhynchus coronatus. Ecuador: Napo, Zancudo Cocha.

Rufous-backed Kingfisher by © Doug Wechsler/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Rufous-backed Kingfisher

Both sexes of this tiny kingfisher sport the same brilliant hues. This one is on its sleeping perch. Scientific name: Ceyx rufidorsa. Indonesia: Bentuang-Karimun National Park.

Spruce Grouse by © Paul Bannick/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Spruce Grouse

In addition to using feathers in his stunning visual display, the male Spruce Grouse makes swishing and whooshing noises with his feathers during courtship. Scientific name: Falcipennis canadensis. USA, Washington, Okanogan County.

Violet-crowned Woodnymph by © Glenn Bartley/VIREOAcademy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Violet-crowned Woodnymph

The brilliant iridescent colors of hummingbirds are the result of multiple evenly spaced layers of air-filled melanin granules in the feathers. Scientific name: Thalurania colombica. Costa Rica.

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