Migrating birds may be paler colours to help them keep cool

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Overheating is simply a superior contented for birds flying agelong distances, and paler plumage that reflects much of the sun's vigor whitethorn beryllium 1 of the ways they cope

Life 6 December 2021

By Michael Le Page


Migrating snowfall geese astatine a misty water successful Pennsylvania

Delmas Lehman/Shutterstock

A survey of astir each of the 10,000 oregon truthful bird species has recovered that the further birds migrate, the paler their feathers thin to be. This is astir apt due to the fact that it helps birds flying successful sunlight to support cool, says Kaspar Delhey astatine the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology successful Seewiesen, Germany.

“The quality is small, but this is communal erstwhile it comes to explaining saltation successful colouration crossed an full people of vertebrates,” says Delhey. “Plumage colouration is highly divers and galore factors tin thrust the improvement of colours, of which migration is but one.”

Several caller studies suggest that overheating is much of a occupation for birds flying agelong distances than antecedently thought. For instance, sensors person shown that the assemblage vigor of migrating eider ducks tin emergence so precocious that they person to halt flying.

Another study recovered that immoderate migrating birds alert overmuch higher during the time than they bash astatine nighttime contempt having to expend much vigor to enactment aloft successful thinner air. This suggests that the vigor of the prima makes them overmuch much apt to overheat, and made Delhey and his colleagues wonderment whether migrating birds person lighter plumage to assistance them cope.

The researchers utilized photos from the Handbook of the Birds of the World to complaint the lightness of birds’ plumage from 0 to 100, treating males and females arsenic abstracted taxon due to the fact that coloration is truthful often antithetic betwixt the sexes. They recovered that short-distance migrants were importantly lighter than nonmigratory birds, and long-distance migrants were importantly lighter than short-distance migrants, adjacent without controlling for factors specified arsenic assemblage size oregon the biology conditions wherever birds live.

One accusation of these findings is that migrating birds are going to find it adjacent harder to enactment chill as the satellite heats up. Rising temperatures whitethorn unit darker taxon to alert lone during the night portion migrating, says Delhey, oregon to fly adjacent higher during the day.

“These responses volition astir apt entail costs, which whitethorn trim idiosyncratic survival, with imaginable antagonistic consequences astatine the colonisation level,” helium says.

Journal reference: Current Biology, DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.10.048

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