The beauty of a bird astonishes us, and we all admire the lone singular discarded feather, but we don’t always look at the conspiracy of feathers as they compose that beauty. Look at this juvenile American Goldfinch:
Enjoy this cerulean American Bluejay:
Or the elegant chevron on the nape of the Northern Flicker’s neck:
Admire this bronzed turkey
Or, finally, this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker:
Compare their plumage to our hair: in a fine head of human hair, the front, back and sides are much the same, and each individual hair is more or less the same colour from root to tip (aging aside, and provided you have been keeping au courant at the hairdressers). The human color range goes from jet black to pale straw, with diversions into chestnut. But a bird’s plumage is not at all like that. The color palette knows no limits. On a single bird, the head may be one color, the breast another, and then all is different again from the wings to the tail. As a final flourish, each individual feather can be a whole range of different colors, from base to tip, like this one from a bluejay:
Then they are arranged so that the dots in one feather line up with the one next door to form a stripe: how does the woodpecker’s genome DO that??
The texture can change too. So on my head, I have tiny feathery bits at my temples, and long smooth hairs elsewhere, but this turkey feather changes texture half way down:
You really couldn’t make it up. I think I need to talk to my colorist about upping her game.