Current Ornithology

Volume 12 of the series Current Ornithology pp 141-190

The Evolution of Bird Coloration and Plumage Elaboration

A Review of Hypotheses
  • Udo M. SavalliAffiliated withDepartment of Integrative Biology, University of California

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Although physically homogeneous, birds come in a wide variety of colors, rivaling butterflies and tropical reef fishes. Such variation invites attention and many hypotheses have been developed to explain the evolution of avian color and pattern. In addition, plumage of birds have structural elaborations that go beyond its insulative and aerodynamic properties including various kinds of ruffs, elongated tails (retrices or coverts), crests, and plumes which I refer to collectively as “ornaments.” Since many hypotheses for the evolution of color and pattern (especially conspicuous colors and patterns) involve communicative functions that apply also to the evolution of ornaments, I treat both color and ornaments in this review.