Marriage feathers of woodcocks were the brightest in nature

(ORDO NEWS) — Small and inconspicuous woodcock forest birds hide several white and incredibly bright feathers in their tails.

They reflect up to 55 percent of the incident rays, so that males caring for females remain clearly visible even in the weakest light.

Woodcocks ( Scolopax rusticola ) inhabit temperate forests throughout Eurasia. The variegated plumage makes them invisible in the tree crown, hiding these small birds from predators.

In the mating season, at dusk and at dawn, males fly out of dense branches, attracting females with heart-rending cries and fluffing their tail.

Several white feathers located at the end of the tail are perfectly visible even in low light, which makes them even more noticeable.

As recently shown by European biologists, the tips of these “marriage” feathers are the brightest of all known.

They are capable of reflecting up to 55 percent of the light falling on them, a third more than any other feathers that have been measured accordingly.

To figure out exactly what this reflectivity of the tips of woodcock tails is due to, scientists used a combination of methods, including spectrophotometry, electron microscopy, and even computer simulations, which made it possible to describe the reflection of photons from keratin, the dense protein that makes up feathers (and in humans, nails). and hair).

The work showed that the effect is associated with the peculiarities of the nanoscale structures that keratin forms, as well as with the presence of many additional microscopic filaments that form something like blinds.

They sharply increase the area of ​​the reflective surface, due to which the males become as visible as possible in weak twilight light.

And when the courtship ends, the bright tips of their tails are hidden under a mass of other, discreet feathers, again making the birds invisible in the forest.

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