Sunday, April 22, 2012

Chinese Ring-Neck, Mikado, Copper, Elliots, Reeves

55 Kinds of Pheasants and their feathers

The world has fifty five species of pheasants, almost all from Asia.  One of the great things about these large birds is that the male of each species grows at least four different interesting types of feathers.   And half of the males and females grow totally differently colored and patterned feathers.  Let me see, that’s over 300 interesting different kinds of feathers to work with! 

Here are two more reasons why feathers from these birds are great.  First, the males use feather size, pattern, form, shape, and color to attract their mates.  Second, pheasants are large, so their feathers are big and showy.  Here are a few:

·         Long-tail pheasants have long tails – like the ringneck pheasants people hunt and also pure black and white stripes tails from Mikados that live only in Taiwan, and a Copper that live only in Japan.
·         Peacock pheasants are perhaps an ancestor of the peacock but a lot smaller and with  bright round eyes on their tails
·         Tragopans have little round spots all over, some are a bright red with round white spots and one is black with round white spots.
·         Junglefowl are the ancestors of chickens
·         Three species of peacocks, the Java Green, the India, and the Congo which looks a lot different and is the only pheasant originating outside Asia.  It is from Africa.

I had a male Impeyan Pheasant, a stocky species that lives high in the Himalayas.  It escaped my cage one day and flew into a neighbor’s grass hay field 1/3 mile away.  A normally colored bird would disappear, blending in with the deep grass and I never would have found it.  But the Impeyan’s brilliant metallic feathers showed like a beacon.  I imagine that this bird’s metallic and reflective feathers led to the demise of many of its kind.  So its advantages of attracting mates must outweigh this major disadvantage. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Most Beautiful Bird on Earth

Number patterns 0-9 found on Argus Pheasant feathers
It’s not the color; it’s the patterns on the feathers that make this peacock-sized bird so awesome.   How can a bird that grows only black, white and brown feathers be so attractive?  It’s because the patterns vary so much.  The bird sports eyes on some of its wing feathers that look exactly like the eye spots on some moths.  And there’s not only one or two eyes on each feather but 10 or more!  At 30 inches long, these impress me as the most wondrous feathers on earth.  The female wing feathers show reticulated markings like Arabic writing.  The male’s five-foot black and white spotted tail feathers, of which the bird grows only two, twist curiously into spirals at the tips.  Even the feathers under the tail differ in unique patterns and sizes.  The longest 13-inch top ones grow downy filaments half-way up the shaft and then turn into yellow-brown top feather with large black spots.  Then under the tail and with the same markings as the tail, are feathers that look like Ping-Pong paddles cut in half but grow up to 18 inches long. 

When I was in my early 20s, I worked on a family friend’s grape vineyard during Spring Breaks.  They kept a few large  Argus wing feathers displayed in a jar on their counter.  I think I can trace an increase in my obsession with feathers back to those.  Now, a good portion of my work with feathers is with the Great Argus Pheasant.  I’ve made an alphabet just from the patterns in the different feathers of the Argus pheasant.  Actually, there were so many patterns I discovered, that I had to decide between at least three choices of each letter for which one to include in the alphabet poster.  Here is a two-minute Argus Pheasant video (on ARKive) so you can get to know the bird

OK, I admit, peacocks are equally beautiful in a different way.  But they much more common and therefore can sometimes seem a bit, well, too common for use in artwork, though I do and I love them.