Waterfowl Visitors

A beautiful bluebird sky today! Today there were a couple visitors on the pond. The first duck I noticed was bright brick red Cinnamon Teal. The picture doesn’t do it justice. It’s feathers were shimmering in the sun and it looked so bright.

I got to wondering what makes bird feathers so remarkably beautiful and found a couple interesting bits of information from the Cornell site. Basically, feathers get their color from pigmentation and/or structure. Pigmentation is the result of special color-producing substances. Pigmentation is what colors human skin, for instance. An interesting study at Yale University shows that pigment cells can actually remain in fossils, allowing scientists to see original color patterns on 100 million-year-old creatures! In the future, they hope to be able to determine which pigments are in the fossils to be able to re-create the actual colors of long-extinct feathered animals.

The other way feathers get their color is from their structure. For instance, prismatic structure in hummingbird throat feathers allow the light to refract, creating iridescent colors. Another structural effect is the vivid blues that we see in Bluebirds or Steller’s Jays. This comes from tiny bubbles in the feather cell structure. The tiny bubbles are formed in a similar way as beer foam is formed (read more here).

There were about a dozen Green-winged Teal on the pond too. Being visitors, they are much shyer when approached by me and my three dogs. They lifted off and began an incredibly synchronized acrobatic flight above the property, seeking a less vulnerable spot to rest. Teal often gather in large flocks as they fly and their twisting masses are fun to watch. They’ve been flying around Big Sky proper and resting in the water storage ponds. Keep your eyes out for them.

The last visitor I noticed was a lone Bufflehead, stuck in the brood pond. We have a large scale mesh covering stretched across the 10’ by 20’ brood pond to keep osprey and eagles and the like from harvesting the tiny fish we grow to stock the pond. Every now and then, other critters get stuck in there. The Bufflehead made an easy escape by swimming up and through the open entrance gate. I was relieved he didn’t try to get up and fly.

Happy May Day!