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Fascinating Feathers

2014 February 7
by Seth Inman

Starting in late November, 2013 and ending in mid-January, 2014, our Fascinating Feathers Challenge received six hundred submissions, and we selected around fifty of those entries as award-winners in their distinct categories.

Best Dressed was the most popular category for participants, leading us to believe that people find birds beautiful! And rightly so. Out of the stunning array of well-dressed bird photos and pieces of art that are shared in the category, we saw both common and less-known birds, with colorful and monochromatic plumage patterns, but all with a great sense of style and a pleasure to look at!

Much harder to see were the entries in our Best Camouflaged category — these inconspicuous fellows were often feathered to perfection when it came to blending in with their surroundings and fooling us into thinking they were just another rock, or a pile of leaves, or a stump on a tree! Just as the Best Dressed birds are emblematic of the sexual selection that takes place throughout much of the animal kingdom, the Best Camouflaged appropriately illustrate the importance of adapting to the environment over the course of evolution and becoming better predators or luckier prey as a species.

“The Seduction” by Caroline Sun

Western Meadowlark by Susan Vanderveen

Sometimes environmental factors can lead to wacky changes, like this spoonbill’s pink feathers, connected to its main diet of aquatic creatures that it probes for in marshy habitat. Birds can also have mutations, like this leucistic swallow that is lacking most of the pigments in its feathers (leucism is similar to albinism). And plenty of birds just do things that look plain weird to us, if we don’t know what’s up!

What is clear is how much the feathers make the bird. Consider a hummingbird without the perfect wings to flutter up against a flower; imagine what would happen to this duck if it tried to enter its nestbox without flaring its tail and wing feathers to brake against the air; think about the down in your jacket and how birds stay warm in a place like South Dakota. Feathers are quite functional, indeed!

Not every entry contained images, however. We got plenty of poems and a couple stories, which we encourage you to check out as well.

We’d like to thank every participant for joining us in our first Fascinating Feathers challenge and creating such a magnificent repository for artwork, photographs, videos, and literature surrounding birds and the captivating stuff that makes a bird a bird!

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