You can't judge a pigment by its color: Carotenoid and melanin content of yellow and brown feathers in swallows, bluebirds, penguins, and domestic chickens

Kevin J. McGraw, Kazumasa Wakamatsu, Shosuke Ito, Paul M. Nolan, Pierre Jouventin, F. Stephen Dobson, Richard E. Austic, Rebecca J. Safran, Lynn M. Siefferman, Geoffrey E. Hill, Robert S. Parker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

85 Scopus citations

Abstract

The two main pigment types in bird feathers are the red, orange, and yellow carotenoids and the black, gray, and brown melanins. Reports conflict, however, regarding the potential for melanins to produce yellow colors or for carotenoids to produce brown plumages. We used high-performance liquid chromatography to analyze carotenoids and melanins present in the yellow and brown feathers of five avian species: Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis), Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica), King Penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus), Macaroni Penguins (Eudyptes chrysolophus), and neonatal chickens (Gallus domesticus). In none of these species did we detect carotenoid pigments in feathers. Although carotenoids are reportedly contained in the ventral plumage of European Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica rustica), we instead found high concentrations of both eumelanins and phaeomelanins in North American Barn Swallows (H. r. erythrogaster). We believe we have detected a new form of plumage pigment that gives penguin and domestic-chick feathers their yellow appearance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)390-395
Number of pages6
JournalCondor
Volume106
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2004
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Aptenodytes patagonicus
  • Carotenoids
  • Eudyptes chrysolophus
  • Gallus domesticus
  • Hirundo rustica
  • Melanins
  • Sialia sialis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology

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