Rainbow Plumage of Parrots

Rainbow Plumage on Parrots
JD O’Dea PhD

Abstract: Several parrot species from different continents and subfamilies share a remarkable feature of their plumage. The colours of the visual spectrum appear in order on their bodies, in the same order as in a rainbow. The observation is discussed.

Parrots are renowned as colourful birds, but some deserve to be described as “flying rainbows.” These parrots have many of the colours of the spectrum in their plumage, and even more remarkably, they appear in the same order as in the visual spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet).

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The following are some of the parrot species that show this rainbow plumage effect:

Ara macao (scarlet macaw). Family Psittacidae. Subfamily Arinae. Neotropical.
Aratinga solstitialis (sun conure). Family Psittacidae. Subfamily Arinae. Neotropical.
Aratinga jandaya (jandaya parakeet). Family Psittacidae. Subfamily Arinae. Neotropical.
Platycercus eximius(eastern rosella). Family Psittaculidae. Subfamily Platycercinae. Australia.
Neophema chrysogaster (orange-bellied parrot). Family Psittaculidae. Subfamily Psittaculinae. Australia.
Psephotus varius (mulga parrot). Family Psittaculidae. Subfamily Platycercinae. Australia
Cyanoramphus malherbi (Malherbe’s parakeet ). Family Psittaculidae. Subfamily Platycercinae. New Zealand.
Hapalopsittica fuertesi (indigo-winged parrot). Family Psitticidae. Subfamily Arinae. Neotropical.
Amazona oratrix (yellow-headed amazon). Family Psittacidae. Subfamily Arinae. Neotropical.
Conuropsis carolinensis (Carolina parakeet). Family Psittacidae. Subfamily Arinae. North America (now extinct)
Eunymphicus cornutus (horned parakeet). Family Psittaculidae. Subfamily Platycercinae. New Caledonia.
Agapornis lilianae (Lilian’s lovebird). Family Psittaculidae. Subfamily Agapornithinae. Africa.

Among parrots in general, it is common to find adjacent areas of green and blue plumage, and adjacent areas of yellow and green are also often observed (Forshaw, 2010). These colours are also adjacent in the visual spectrum of course.

The nature and function of parrot plumage colours has attracted recent attention (Berg and Bennett, 2010; Tinbergen et al., 2013). Both pigmentary and structural colours are present and the parrots’ visual system is sensitive to colour. It is thought likely that plumage colouration is important in sexual signalling and mate choice.

The common juxtaposition of areas of plumage in colours that are also adjacent in the visual spectrum and the occurrence on a number of parrots of most of the colours of the spectrum in order could simply be a random, if noteworthy, effect. On the other hand, it may have some role in mate choice. One possibility is that having colours adjacent on the body that are close on the visual spectrum might make the perception of colour patterns more difficult and therefore more of a selective challenge for potential mates.

References

Berg, M. L. and Bennett, A. T.D. (2010). The evolution of plumage colouration in parrots: a review. Emu : austral ornithology, vol. 110, no. 1, pp. 10-20.
Forshaw, J.M. (2010). Parrots of the World. Princeton University Press.
Tinbergen, J., Wilts, B.D. and Stavenga, D.G. (2013). Spectral tuning of Amazon parrot feather coloration by psittacofulvin pigments and spongy structures. The Journal of Experimental Biology 216, 4358-4364.

ADDENDUM: Some of these “rainbow parrots” are pictured at my earlier blog posts here and here.

Here is a link to the paper in the Australian biology journal Calodema:

http://www.calodema.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Parrot-plumage-paper.pdf

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14 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Julian O'Dea on January 9, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    http://www4.museu-goeldi.br/revistabrornito/revista/index.php/BJO/article/viewFile/22_3_artigo2/pdf_194

    Age and gender related plumage variation of psittacofulvine pigments: the case of the Yellow-faced Parrot Alipiopsitta xanthops

    Reply

  2. Posted by Julian O'Dea on January 9, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    On parrots from “The Australian Galah”:

    http://galah.galahs.com.au/content/php/article045.php

    Reply

  3. Posted by Julian O'Dea on January 9, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21038533

    The dual function of barred plumage in birds: camouflage and communication.

    Reply

  4. […] have discussed the “rainbow plumage” of many parrots before. In many parrot species, colours adjacent […]

    Reply

  5. […] many parrots, as I discussed here, they have “rainbow plumage” which shows adjacent colours which are also adjacent on […]

    Reply

  6. Posted by Julian O'Dea on September 18, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    “Sex-linked genomic variation and its relationship to avian plumage dichromatism and sexual selection”:

    http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2148/15/199

    Reply

  7. […] have written about the rainbow patterns in parrot plumage here and about the common orange/yellow markings as seen on the leading edge of that bird’s wings […]

    Reply

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