There is something special about birds that are red and black that makes them especially beautiful.
Colors have strong emotional correlates in humans, and we are biologically wired to pay attention to color, because it can convey important information like ripe vs poisonous in fruit. For humans, red can symbolize anger, lust, passion or energy, while black most often symbolizes dark moods, despair, mourning, or death. Even though they would seem to convey opposing emotions, together they can mean strength or a sense of power.
But what does color mean to a bird — and especially the pattern of red, black, and white?
Bright colors are used to attract mates. Brighter and more contrasting colors are most often an indicator of the health and vigor of that individual and a signal to females that the bird would be a good choice as a mate. To produce a really red color in their plumage, birds must not only consume great quantities of carotene (yellow-orange pigment) in their diet, but they must turn on an enzyme (about 1000 fold) that converts the yellow pigment to bright red while they are molting new body and wing feathers.
Bright flashes of color in males are also useful as threats to other males, warning them not to encroach on their territory or their mates.
But that still leaves us with the question of why red and black is common among colorful birds in their spring plumage, and there doesn’t seem to be a quick answer to that on Wikipedia. Keep in mind the colors we see are not necessarily what birds see because they have a variety of color-detecting oil droplets in their eyes that apparently enhance color detection, as well as a greater range of sensitivity to wavelengths of light. So, it’s a mystery still to be solved.
For more information on the subject, check out this interesting article in Forbes magazine about “how birds became red”.
Beautiful set of images Sue!
Informative and as always beautifully illustrated. These are fabulous characters, and i love that vermillion flycatcher. We have red capped bishop birds here which remind us of the clergy!
Thanks for your comment. I looked up the red-capped bishop bird — stunning! If I have my information correct, they are birds of grasslands, which is interesting because grassland birds in North America are camouflaged with drab colors and striped patterns to hide them in the grasses.
Sue, as always, your photos and your info are AMAZING! Thank you!
Thanks, dear friend. Blind squirrel finding many nuts…?
Ha! Maybe, in your case, not so blind!!
Amazing collection. That Warbler!