1 Humphrey-Parkes (H-P) moult
and plumage terminology
Almost all species of birds moult at least annually, usually after the breeding season, known as the pre-basic
moult. This resulting covering of feathers, which will last
either until the next breeding season or until the next annual moult, is known as the basic plumage. Many species
undertake another moult prior to the breeding season
known as the pre-alternate moult, the resulting breeding plumage being known as the alternate plumage or
nuptial plumage. The alternate plumage is often brighter
than the basic plumage, for the purposes of sexual display, but may also be cryptic to hide incubating birds that
might be vulnerable on the nest.[4]

The differences in plumage of a blue grosbeak, from top to
bottom, between a breeding male (alternate plumage), a nonbreeding male (basic plumage), a female, and the related indigo

The Humphrey-Parkes terminology requires some attention to detail to name moults and plumages correctly.[5]

2 Eclipse plumage

This article is about the layer of feathers that cover a
bird. For the campaign against the excessive use of birds’
feathers and plumage in ladies fashions, see Plumage
Plumage (Latin: plūma "feather") refers both to the layer
of feathers that cover a bird and the pattern, colour, and
arrangement of those feathers. The pattern and colours of
plumage differ between species and subspecies, and may
vary with age classes, sexes, and season. Within species
there can be different colour morphs.

Most birds moult, usually before and after breeding, resulting in a breeding or nuptial plumage and a basic
plumage. Many ducks and some other species such as
the red junglefowl have males wearing a bright nuptial
plumage while breeding and a drab eclipse plumage for
Mandarin duck (male) in eclipse plumage
some months afterwards.
Many ducks have bright, colourful plumage, exhibiting
strong sexual dimorphism. However, they moult into a
dull plumage after breeding in mid-summer. This drab,
female-like appearance is called eclipse plumage. When
they shed feathers to go into eclipse, the ducks become
flightless for a short period of time. Some duck species
remain in eclipse for one to three months in the late sumHen feathering is an inherited plumage character in mer and early fall, while others would retain the cryptic
domestic fowl controlled by a single gene. Plumology (or plumage until the next spring when they undergo another
plumage science) is the name for the science that is as- moult to return to their breeding plumage.
sociated with the study of feathers.[1][2][3]
Although mainly found in the Anatidae, a few other
Abnormal plumages include a variety of conditions.
Albinism, total loss of colour, is rare, but partial loss
of colours is more common. Some species are colour
polymorphic, having two or more colour variants. A few
species have special types of polymorphism, as in the
male ruff which has an assortment of different colours
around the head and neck in the breeding season only.


A reduction in eumelanin leads to non-eumelanin schizochroism with an overall fawn plumage while a lack of phaeomelanin results in grey coloured non-phaeomelanin schizochroism. Dilution regularly occurs in normal plumage (grey. Melanism refers to an excess of black or dark colours.[9] Axanthic budgerigar There are hereditary as well as non-hereditary variations in plumage that are rare and termed as abnormal or aberrant plumages. males of hummingbirds and most lek-mating passerines – like the Guianan cock-of-therock or birds of paradise – retain their exuberant plumage and sexual dimorphism at all times. but may in addition occur as an aberration (e. termed “hepatic form” particularly in the cuckoos. an enzyme essential for deposition of pigment in the developing feather. legs.2 3 ABNORMAL PLUMAGES species.1 Albinism Albinism in birds is rare. pale structural colors are instead achieved by shifting the peak wavelength at which light is refracted. 3 Abnormal plumages An albino African penguin. 3. and can melanin synthesis. In the superb and splendid fairywrens. males do not acquire nuptial plumage until four years of age[7] – well after they become sexually mature and indeed longer than the vast majority of individuals live. In some birds – many true owls (Strigidae). most fairywrens[a] and some sunbirds also have an eclipse plumage. including related red junglefowl. It is usually the result of a genetic mutation is of a lower intensity overall. Melanin of different forms combine with xanthophylls to produce colour mixtures and when this combination is imbalanced it produces colour shifts that are termed as schizochroisms (including xanthochromism – overabundance of yellow – and axanthism – lack of yellow – which are commonly bred in cagebirds such as budgerigars). occurring to any extent in perhaps one in 1800 individuals. thus not occur in structural coloration (i. bills. some nightjars (Caprimulgidae) and a few cuckoos (Cuculus and relatives) being widely known examples – there is colour polymorphism. “dilute blue” does not exist).. Terpsiphone. in the above-mentioned examples a brown (phaeomelanin) and grey (eumelanin) morph exist. Leucism (which includes what used to .. pink and cream colours are usually produced by this process).e.g. buff. The term “dilution” is used for situations where the colour and feet. it is caused by decreased causing the absence of tyrosinase. for example). Other cases of natural polymorphism are of various kinds. but more unusual types of polymorphism exist – the face colour of the Gouldian finch (Erythrura gouldiae) or the courtship types of male Ruffs (Philomachus pugnax). skin. moulting as ordinary birds do once annually. This means that two or more colour variants are numerous within their populations during all or at least most seasons and plumages. It involves loss of colour in all parts including the iris of the eyes. Carotenism refers to abnormal distribution of carotenoid pigments. all normally black plumage becoming grey).[8] In contrast to the ducks. very old males (over about four years) may moult from one nuptial plumage to another[6] whereas in the red-backed and white-winged fairywrens. Erythromelanism or erythrism is the result of excessive reddish brown erythromelanin deposition in feathers that normally lack melanin. many are melanic/nonmelanic (some paradise-flycatchers.

whose expression is limited to the male sex. The trait is controlled by a simple autosomic dominant gene. ravens.[10] 3. although otherwise look and response as virile males. The eyes in this case are pink or red. or egret. In imperfect albinism. Malaysia.[10] Four degrees of albinism have been described. unusually yellow pigmentation • Ino budgerigar mutation. goose. one white-headed. Aging may also turn a bird’s feathers white.[19] A young completely albino crow in Malacca. or feathers. with both sides of the bird showing a similar pattern. the pigment is partially inhibited in the skin. Falconers have observed that their trained birds are likely to attack a white pigeon in a flock because it is conspicuous. albinos are often harassed by their own species. The white areas may be symmetrical. but is not absent from any of them. the occurrence of this mutation in captive-bred Budgerigars 5 See also • Animal coloration • Plume hunting • Hen feathering in cocks .2 Hen feathering in cocks be termed as “partial albinism”) refers to loss of pigments in some or all parts of feathers. Injury or disease may change their color. The American robin and house sparrow led bird species in the incidence of 4 Pigmentation conditions • Albinism. Incomplete albinism is the complete absence of pigment from the skin. such as certain feathers. eyes. and feet are very pale or white. In a nesting colony of the latter. such as a swan. Such observations have been made among red-winged blackbirds. or feathers. legs.[10] Several kinds of albinism in chickens has been described: A complete albinism controlled by an autosomal recessive gene[12] and two different kinds of partial albinism. a condition similar to albinism in animals. The beak.[10] 3 albinism. is not an albino. A bird that is albino (from the Latin albus.[16][17][18] The condition is due to an enhanced activity of the aromatase complex of enzymes responsible for estrogen synthesis. “white”) has white feathers in place of coloured ones on some portion of its body. Males with this condition develop a female-type plumage. and one full albino—were shunned and abused by companions. because blood shows through in the absence of pigment in the irises. Albinistic white appears to replace brown pigments more often than red or yellow ones. Albino adults are rare in the wild because their eyesight is poor resulting in greater risk of predation. A completely albino bird is the most rare. nor is a bird that has seasonally alternating white plumage. So estrogen formation in the skin is as much as several hundred-fold higher than that of normal chickens. which may reduce its ability to fly. the lack of melanin pigmentation • Leucism. and hawks than in goldfinches or orioles. A complete albino often has weak eyesight and brittle wing and tail feathers. The most common form is termed partial albinism. but only dilutes the pigment in the plumage.3. records suggest a greater incidence in crows.2 Hen feathering in cocks Main article: Hen feathering in cocks Hen feathering in cocks is a genetically conditioned character in domestic fowl (Gallus gallus domesticus). characterized by reduced pigmentation in general • Melanism (or melanosis).[14] A fourth kind of albinism severely reduce pigmentation in the eyes. are lacking the pigment melanin. In flocks. and African penguins. barn swallows. In some breeds. eyes. unusually dark melanin pigmentation • Xanthochromism.[11] They are likely easier targets for predators because their colour distinguishes them from their environment. A bird that is naturally white.[10] Albinism has been reported in all orders and in 54 families of North American birds. three unusual juveniles—one black-headed. one can see males that have a plumage completely similar in all aspects to that of females. One of the partial albinisms is sex-linked[13] and the other is autosomal recessive. including dietary deficiencies or circulatory problems during feather development. in which local areas of the bird’s body.[15] Abnormally white feathers are not always due to albinism. but not all three.

p. [11] Grouw. Jr. 149 ISBN 0198546904 [7] Rowley and Russell.C. doi:10.A. 74. [2] Eichhorn. 2nd ed. Ian and Russell. H (1920). Bargar.J. Somes.englisch (1. 145. Berlin [u. T. Auk 76: 1–31. Journal of Heredity 31:291-292. Avian Genetics.W. M. doi:10. “Inheritance of the henny feathering trait in the golden Campine chicken: evidence for allelism with the gene that causes henny feathering in the Sebright bantam”. Parkes (1959). 32. Hein van (2006). W.2307/1536491. [15] Warren.. ISBN 3861172283. 256 (9): 4341–4. PMID 22403389 [4] Humphrey.W. J. R. [12] Warren. [17] George F.4 7 • Sea pen • Pluma porgy 6 Notes a Males of the White-shouldered and Emperor fairywrens of New Guinea do not enter an eclipse plumage.C. F. Langenscheidt Fachwörterbuch Biologie Englisch : englisch . J. Bull 39 (4): 257–259. (ed. J. Thompson and Bruce E. Science 335: 1215–1219. P.. D. Dutch Birding 28: 79–89. J. John. ISBN 0-394-46651-9. Biol. doi:10. K.D. Sex-linked imperfect albinism. [10] “Albinism”. [16] Morgan. “An approach to the study of molts and plumages” (PDF). 71-80. .B. J Hered 81 (2): 107–110. George. 21–110. “Increased estrogen formation and aromatase activity in fibroblasts cultured from the skin of chickens with the Henny feathering trait” (PDF). 176-177. Jr. Lea and Febiger. PMID 7217085. M. Aufl. hrsg. “Inheritance of the henny-feathering trait of the Sebright bantam chicken”.. darwinfoundation. Fairy-Wrens and Grasswrens. von Manfred (2005). Terres. Philadelphia.. [13] ^ Mueller. Knopf. pp.F.W.1213780.2307/4081839. Wilson.W. New York: Alfred A. and Wilson. McPhaul.G. Wilson. P. F. Baron. J. deutsch . J.C. PMID 6715868. [18] Somes.D. Biol Chem. Fairy-Wrens and Grasswrens. Retrieved 24 April 2015. F. Quanguo (9 March 2012).. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Noble. 12.1126/science.G. 1982. “The genetic factor for henfeathering in the Sebright Bantam” (PDF). R. 181 [8] See Australian Bird and Bat Banding Studies [9] Buckley. 7 References [1] “Galapagos plumology”. REFERENCES [14] Brumbaugh. (1984).2307/1368824.. “Clarifying the Humphrey-Parkes Molt and Plumage Terminology” (PDF). [19] Leshin. Condor 94 (1): 297– 300. doi:10. Charles Darwin Collections Database by the Charles Darwin Foundation. Eleanor..D (1981).. PMID 2338489. 1980. Journal of Heredity. [5] Sievert Rohwer. ed. (1990). Hered 75 (2): 99–102. D. Retrieved 24 April 2015. pp. Young (1991). [3] Li. 331-336. J. Baron.D.S.A. Diseases of cage and aviary birds. M.S. and Oetting. “Reconstruction of Microraptor and the Evolution of Iridescent Plumage”.. [6] Rowley. and Hutt. 1933 Inheritance of albinism in the domestic fowl. C.). 1941 Genetics of the fowl. In: Petrak.. Journal of Heredity. 1940 Inheritance of pinkeye in the fowl. Matsumine H.]: Langenscheidt. George.).a.. and K. Journal of Heredity 24:379-383. “Not every white bird is an albino: sense and nonsense about colour aberrations in birds” (PDF). pp. Christopher W. J. J. 1983 A “new” allele at the C pigment locus in the fowl. 537.deutsch.

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