Plumage (Latin: plūma "feather") refers both to the layer of feathers
that cover a bird and the pattern, colour, and arrangement of those
feathers. The pattern and colours of plumage differ between species
and subspecies, and may vary with age classes. Within species there
can be different colour morphs. The placement of feathers on a bird
are not haphazard, but rather emerge in organized, overlapping rows
and groups, and these feather tracts are known by standardized
Most birds moult, usually before and after breeding, resulting in a
breeding or nuptial plumage and a basic plumage. Many ducks and some
other species such as the red junglefowl have males wearing a bright
nuptial plumage while breeding and a drab eclipse plumage for some
months afterwards. The painted bunting's juveniles have two inserted
moults in their first autumn, each yielding plumage like an adult
females. The first starts a few days after fledging replacing the
juvenile plumage with an auxiliary formative plumage; the second a
month or so later giving the formative plumage.
Abnormal plumages include a variety of conditions. Albinism, total
loss of colour, is rare, but partial loss of colours is more common.
Some species are colour polymorphic, having two or more colour
variants. A few species have special types of polymorphism, as in the
male ruff which has an assortment of different colours around the head
and neck in the breeding season only.
Hen feathering is an inherited plumage character in domestic fowl
controlled by a single gene.
Plumology (or plumage science) is the
name for the science that is associated with the study of
1 Humphrey-Parkes (H-P) moult and plumage terminology
2 Eclipse plumage
3 Abnormal plumages
3.2 Hen feathering in cocks
4 Pigmentation conditions
5 See also
Humphrey-Parkes (H-P) moult and plumage terminology
Almost all species of birds moult at least annually, usually after the
breeding season, known as the pre-basic moult. This resulting covering
of feathers, which will last either until the next breeding season or
until the next annual moult, is known as the basic plumage. Many
species undertake another moult prior to the breeding season known as
the pre-alternate moult, the resulting breeding plumage being known as
the alternate plumage or nuptial plumage. The alternate plumage is
often brighter than the basic plumage, for the purposes of sexual
display, but may also be cryptic to hide incubating birds that might
be vulnerable on the nest.
Humphrey-Parkes terminology requires some attention to detail to
name moults and plumages correctly.
Mandarin duck (male) in eclipse plumage
Many ducks have bright, colourful plumage, exhibiting strong sexual
dimorphism. However, they moult into a dull plumage after breeding in
mid-summer. This drab, female-like appearance is called eclipse
plumage. When they shed feathers to go into eclipse, the ducks become
flightless for a short period of time. Some duck species remain in
eclipse for one to three months in the late summer and early fall,
while others retain the cryptic plumage until the next spring when
they undergo another moult to return to their breeding plumage.
Although mainly found in the Anatidae, a few other species, including
related red junglefowl, most fairywrens[a] and some sunbirds also have
an eclipse plumage. In the superb and splendid fairywrens, very old
males (over about four years) may moult from one nuptial plumage to
another whereas in the red-backed and white-winged fairywrens,
males do not acquire nuptial plumage until four years of age –
well after they become sexually mature and indeed longer than the vast
majority of individuals live.
In contrast to the ducks, males of hummingbirds and most lek-mating
passerines – like the
Guianan cock-of-the-rock or birds of paradise
– retain their exuberant plumage and sexual dimorphism at all times,
moulting as ordinary birds do once annually.
An albino African penguin.
There are hereditary as well as non-hereditary variations in plumage
that are rare and termed as abnormal or aberrant plumages. Melanism
refers to an excess of black or dark colours. Erythromelanism or
erythrism is the result of excessive reddish brown erythromelanin
deposition in feathers that normally lack melanin.
different forms combine with xanthophylls to produce colour mixtures
and when this combination is imbalanced it produces colour shifts that
are termed as schizochroisms (including xanthochromism –
overabundance of yellow – and axanthism – lack of yellow – which
are commonly bred in cagebirds such as budgerigars). A reduction in
eumelanin leads to non-eumelanin schizochroism with an overall fawn
plumage while a lack of phaeomelanin results in grey coloured
non-phaeomelanin schizochroism. Carotenism refers to abnormal
distribution of carotenoid pigments.
The term "dilution" is used for situations where the colour is of a
lower intensity overall; it is caused by decreased deposition of
pigment in the developing feather, and can thus not occur in
structural coloration (i.e., "dilute blue" does not exist); pale
structural colors are instead achieved by shifting the peak wavelength
at which light is refracted. Dilution regularly
occurs in normal plumage (grey, buff, pink and cream colours are
usually produced by this process), but may in addition occur as an
aberration (e.g., all normally black plumage becoming grey).
In some birds – many true owls (Strigidae), some nightjars
(Caprimulgidae) and a few cuckoos (
Cuculus and relatives) being widely
known examples – there is colour polymorphism. This means that two
or more colour variants are numerous within their populations during
all or at least most seasons and plumages; in the above-mentioned
examples a brown (phaeomelanin) and grey (eumelanin) morph exist,
termed "hepatic form" particularly in the cuckoos. Other cases of
natural polymorphism are of various kinds; many are melanic/nonmelanic
(some paradise-flycatchers, Terpsiphone, for example), but more
unusual types of polymorphism exist – the face colour of the
Gouldian finch (Erythrura[verification needed] gouldiae) or the
courtship types of male ruffs (Philomachus pugnax).
Albinism in birds is rare, occurring to any extent in perhaps one in
1800 individuals. It involves loss of colour in all parts including
the iris of the eyes, bills, skin, legs, and feet. It is usually the
result of a genetic mutation causing the absence of tyrosinase, an
enzyme essential for melanin synthesis.
Leucism (which includes what
used to be termed as "partial albinism") refers to loss of pigments in
some or all parts of feathers. A bird that is albino (from the Latin
albus, "white") has white feathers in place of coloured ones on some
portion of its body. A bird that is naturally white, such as a swan,
goose, or egret, is not an albino, nor is a bird that has seasonally
alternating white plumage.
Four degrees of albinism have been described. The most common form is
termed partial albinism, in which local areas of the bird's body, such
as certain feathers, are lacking the pigment melanin. The white areas
may be symmetrical, with both sides of the bird showing a similar
pattern. In imperfect albinism, the pigment is partially inhibited in
the skin, eyes, or feathers, but is not absent from any of them.
Incomplete albinism is the complete absence of pigment from the skin,
eyes, or feathers, but not all three.
A young completely albino crow in Malacca, Malaysia.
A completely albino bird is the most rare. The eyes in this case are
pink or red, because blood shows through in the absence of pigment in
the irises. The beak, legs, and feet are very pale or white. Albino
adults are rare in the wild because their eyesight is poor resulting
in greater risk of predation. They are likely easier targets for
predators because their colour distinguishes them from their
environment. Falconers have observed that their trained birds are
likely to attack a white pigeon in a flock because it is conspicuous.
A complete albino often has weak eyesight and brittle wing and tail
feathers, which may reduce its ability to fly. In flocks, albinos are
often harassed by their own species. Such observations have been made
among red-winged blackbirds, barn swallows, and African penguins. In a
nesting colony of the latter, three unusual juveniles—one
black-headed, one white-headed, and one full albino—were shunned and
abused by companions.
Albinism has been reported in all orders and in 54 families of North
American birds. The
American robin and house sparrow led bird species
in the incidence of albinism. Albinistic white appears to replace
brown pigments more often than red or yellow ones; records suggest a
greater incidence in crows, ravens, and hawks than in goldfinches or
Several kinds of albinism in chickens has been described: A complete
albinism controlled by an autosomal recessive gene and two
different kinds of partial albinism. One of the partial albinisms is
sex-linked and the other is autosomal recessive. A fourth kind
of albinism severely reduce pigmentation in the eyes, but only dilutes
the pigment in the plumage.
Abnormally white feathers are not always due to albinism. Injury or
disease may change their color, including dietary deficiencies or
circulatory problems during feather development. Aging may also turn a
bird's feathers white.
Hen feathering in cocks
Main article: Hen feathering in cocks
Hen feathering in cocks
Hen feathering in cocks is a genetically conditioned character in
domestic fowl (Gallus gallus domesticus). Males with this condition
develop a female-type plumage, although otherwise look and respond
like virile males. In some breeds, one can see males that have a
plumage completely similar in all aspects to that of females. The
trait is controlled by a simple autosomic dominant gene, whose
expression is limited to the male sex. The condition is
due to an enhanced activity of the aromatase complex of enzymes
responsible for estrogen synthesis. So estrogen formation in the skin
is as much as several hundred-fold higher than that of normal
Albinism, the lack of melanin pigmentation
Leucism, a condition similar to albinism in animals, characterized by
reduced pigmentation in general
Melanism (or melanosis), unusually dark melanin pigmentation
Xanthochromism, unusually yellow pigmentation
Ino budgerigar mutation, the occurrence of this mutation in
Hen feathering in cocks
a Males of the white-shouldered and emperor fairywrens of New Guinea
do not enter an eclipse plumage.
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Look up pluma or calamus in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Birds (class: Aves)
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Casuariiformes (emus and cassowaries)
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