About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Mourning Doves getting darker feathers

My Mourning Doves look darker. Have you noticed this with your birds? I've pointed this out to several people. Every year my doves seem to get darker feathers and I wondered if there was a reason. Unfortunately it looks like it is the side effect of pollution.

It isn't soot or dirt on the wings that makes them darker but an actual pigment change in the feathers due to the presence of more metal toxins in a bird's bloodstream. These toxic metals tend to bind to melanin pigments, a specialized group of cells that control the darkness of bird feathers.

In urban areas, car exhaust, road runoff, and lawn chemicals have made it hard for birds to find food without toxic metals in them. Once in the bloodstream some of the toxins are pushed to inert body parts such as feathers, to facilitate body detoxification.

The birds with darker feathers seem to have a selective advantage in polluted areas. This could explain the higher success rate for birds like pigeons, doves, sparrows, and starlings in urbanized areas. Paler songbirds' inability to store as many toxic metals in their feathers compared with darker birds could lead to many adverse effects such as laying fewer eggs or having weaker chicks.

More information: The adaptive function of melanin-based plumage coloration to trace metals, Biology Letters, Published 26 March 2014 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2014.0164

Related Articles:
Types of Bird feathers http://bit.ly/w0U1M6
Dirt baths help birds stay clean http://bit.ly/rJR7Ex
Why birds molt http://bit.ly/rGaqRL
Mourning Dove nesting facts and figures https://goo.gl/DSoRYW
Birds Don't Sweat: http://goo.gl/zerp7

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