Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

Feather colours of live birds and museum specimens look similar to burrowing procellariiforms

Amy Martin (School of Biological Sciences, The University of Auckland, New Zealand) and colleagues have published in the ornithological journal Ibis on changes in bird plumage and skin colour over time in museum specimens of five species of procellariiform seabirds.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Bird plumage and skin colour can be assessed from museum specimens. To determine whether these accurately represent the colours of live birds when viewed by birds themselves, we analysed the spectral reflectances of live and up to 100-year-old museum specimens of five seabirds [sic] species (White-faced Petrel Pelagodroma marina, Common Diving Petrel Pelecanoides urinatrix, Grey-faced Petrel Pterodroma gouldi, Little Shearwater Puffinus assimilis and Fluttering Shearwater Puffinus gavia). Live birds had brighter colours than museum specimens, but there were no significant differences in the wavelengths reflected. Modelling indicated that seabirds would be able to detect colour changes in the skin, but not the feathers, of museum specimens, but only for species with blue or pink feet (Pelecanoides urinatrix and Puffinis assimilis). For seabirds, museum specimens are adequate proxies for feather colour but not for skin colour.”

fluttering shearwater 

Fluttering Shearwater


Martin, A.L.B., Gaskett, A.C. & Friesen, M.R. 2017.  Feather colours of live birds and museum specimens look similar when viewed by seabirds.  Ibis DOI: 10.1111/ibi.12501.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 14 July 2017

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