Hypnotic Book Surveys The Natural Beauty Of Wild Bird Feathers

A riddle: What’s as intricate as a thumbprint, but as bright as an emerald?

You might’ve guessed a pair of gleaming green eyes, or a foliage in early springtime. But “youre supposed to” didn’t guess another product of nature that’s less often the subject of poetic musings: a bird’s feather.

Calling attention to the singular beauty of the functional objects, National Geographic photographer Robert Clark took intimate portraits of featherings and collected them in a new volume, Feathers: Showings of Brilliant Plumage, treating them as subjects worthy of closer examination.

In one of his feathering portraits, a fluffy, brown object is topped by a sharp green peak. It’s a blood pheasant’s plumage, and, as Clark described, it’s designed not for flying, but for squeezing through tight spaces. In another image, rows of clashing patterns make for a dizzying sight — leopard-like places are topped off by a starry plain and a ribbon-like row of deep, velvety blue. The great argus’s plumages are quite the production; that’s why they’re used to attract mates. As is the King bird-of-paradise’s plumage, which looks more like a copper-and-gem statue than something that could occur in nature, and indeed, Clark writes that its feather “serves non-mechanical purposes.”

While the descriptions of the feathers are informative, gazing at the abstract compositions of each palette is a elation in its own right; it’s enough to induce you wonder why sunsets get all the credit when it comes to romantic natural phenomena.

The below images and captions are excerpted from Feathers: Showings of Brilliant Plumage by Robert Clark, published by Chronicle Books 2016.

Blood Pheasant

Robert Clark

These relatively small pheasants are strong runners, but not effective fliers. Their game-bird-shaped wings are designed merely to maneuver through tight spaces in escape rather than for sustained flight. Male blood pheasants display a remarkable palette of colorings; the female birds have more muted feathers.

Silver Pheasant

Robert Clark

Juvenile silver pheasants possess brown spots throughout their body. As the male birds age they develop a pure white morph, while the females remain brown. Originally found in Southeast Asia, the silver pheasant has gained popularity as a pet because of its calm temperament and nondestructive behaviour in gardens.

Gray Junglefowl

Robert Clark

If it werent for its remarkable gold and black pinnacle, the gray junglefowl would look very much like a common farm chicken. Its colorful pinnacle is made up of a collect of paper-thin feathers laid on top of each other.

Great Argus

Robert Clark

At first glance, the great argus may appear to be a quiet-foraging, pheasant-like bird from the Phasianidae family — until mating season. The wing feathers are the crown jewel of the arguss plumage. In an elaborate mating dance, the male argus fans its wings toward the female, creating a conical showing of places. Large eye-like places known as ocelli encompass the primary and secondary wing feather groups. Some evolutionary biologists believe that the ocelli are meant to resemble seeds. The male with the most seeds might appear the most sexually viable, and therefore win over the female as a mate.

Unidentified Owl

Robert Clark

Down and covert plumages like the owl plumages seen here create a warm air pocket between the birds body and the surrounding environment, permitting the owl to insulate itself and maintain its body temperature.

King Bird-of-Paradise

Robert Clark

The king bird-of-paradise is a bright red bird with curiously shaped wings. The pair of tail wires shown in this photograph serves non-mechanical intents; like other birds-of-paradise, the monarch use its bizarre featherings in a complex mating rite.

European Green Woodpecker

Robert Clark

Though officially a member of the woodpecker household, this bird doesnt spend much of its hour drumming holes in wood. Rather than finding its food in trees, the bird forages for ants on the ground. Both sexes are greenish yellow with a bright yellow rump and red crown. The secondary plumage seen here can scarcely be seen until the bird opens its wings.

Superb Starling

Robert Clark

The superb starlings wing feathers are a bright, eye-catching green indicative of a structural coloration; colouring are generated by microscopically structured surfaces that interfere with and scatter visible light. These iridescent birds live in large flocks where females breed with multiple males for larger genetic diversity, while the males pair with a single female for life.

Wilsons Bird-of-Paradise

Robert Clark

This image presents a single tightly folded tail feather of Wilsons bird-of-paradise. The most curious feature of this species is the elaborate showing the male birds employ to attract a mate. During mating season, the male birds first make a clearing on the forest floor, removing all branches and detritus. Once a female suitor arrives, the male performs a dazzling dance.

Southern Giant Petrel

Robert Clark

Arctic birds are a hardy breed. They have to survive in a hostile and difficult environment. To survive, the birds developed physiological and biological adaptations, including nasal passageways that filter out the salt from the air and wax esterfilled glands that the birds use to spit on attackers. Due to their diet of carrion, offal, disposed fish, and trash, southern giant petrels are often known as stinkpots.

Scarlet Macaw

Robert Clark

The coloration of this macaw allows it to live in and blend into diverse habitats. While the bird has been subject to habitat loss, so far the species has proved to be widespread and adaptable enough to avoid major threats to population levels.The plumage of this Parrot ranges from rich reds to deep blues. Here is shown a secondary wing covert feathering. Covert feathers encompass other feathers, and allow air to flow over the birds wings and tail. Scarlet macaws strong broad wings allow them to reach velocities of up to 35 miles per hour.

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