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I've been a Canberran since moving here from Adelaide on the first day of 1980. I now live in suburban Duffy with my partner Louise Maher, ABC 666 radio and on-line journalist. Among my early memories is following Sleepy Lizards (Shinglebacks) around the paddocks north of Adelaide, guarded by the faithful bull terrier. I have always been passionate about the natural world, trying to understand how it works, how the nature of Australia came to be, and sharing those understandings. My especial passions are birds, orchids and mammals. For much of my life I have been a full-time naturalist, running bush tours, writing books etc, doing consultancies, presenting a regular radio slot on local ABC, chairing a government environment advisory committee and running adult education classes. Recently I have eased back somewhat, but am still writing, teaching, doing some radio work and running overseas tours - as part of my fascination with our Gondwanan origins I've been running tours to South America for the past decade. I was awarded the Australian Plants Society Award in 2001 and the Australian Natural History Medallion in 2006, both for services to education and conservation. In January 2018 I was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for 'service to conservation and the environment'.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Thinking Pinkly #1 - birds

It's been a while since I offered a new colour in my very intermittent 'colours in nature' series - the last was green, found here, and you can track it back from there.

Way back someone asked me to be sure to do a posting on/in pink one day, and of course I promised to do so; it's been on my conscience (intermittently at least) ever since. Pink is generally a colour based on pigments, and especially carotenoids; we discussed them when we looked at red in nature some time ago, and the same principles apply. In general animals can't produce carotenoids but must take them from food, be it plants, algae or bacteria, then convert them, an outrageously extravagant thing to do just to look good. And never mind the strange Western tradition that reserves pink for girls - in many animals not only do the boys also flaunt it, but in some birds in particular they reserve it for themselves. 

A final comment, before the featured birds (I'll offer some other animals next time, then some flowers). I've been very conservative in what I've selected as 'pink'; there is after all a continuum that includes various reds, orange, russet, pink and mauve. Someone in my home sees colours in that part of the spectrum differently from me, so if I'm not cautious I risk domestic scorn at my colour sense...

Pink isn't actually abundant in animals; I guess the logic is that if you're going to go to all that trouble and energy expense you might as well do it properly and go for something really lurid and red. 

The most obvious pink bird of course to most people is a flamingo. I talked about the details of flamingo pinkness back here, so I won't go through it again, but it's all due to the carotenoids in its brine shrimp diet.
American Flamingo Phoenicopterus ruber, Isabela, Galápagos. Exquisite.
Some of the other more spectacular pink birds are found among Australian cockatoos.
Part of a large flock of Galahs Eolophus roseicapilla, Forbes, New South Wales.
These glorious cockatoos are abundant, having spread south-east in the past 50 years with the
spread of grain crops and water points. They are often dismissed as 'just galahs', but deserve better.
Major Mitchell's Cockatoos Lophochroa leadbeateri, Bourke, New South Wales.
An even more beautiful and much less common cockatoo of the inland.
Major Thomas Mitchell was a 19th century explorer who brought them to the public attention
by rhapsodising over them.

Both pink cockatoos in one tree, Buldbodney State Forest, central New South Wales.
Other bird feature pink, rather than fully clothe themselves in it.
Western Bowerbird Chlamydera guttata, Alice Springs.
The spectacular pink nape is only shown when the bird is displaying.
Pink-eared Duck Malacorhynchus membranaceus, Canberra.
A single-species genus of the inland waterways of Australia, the pink 'ear' is really only
visible through a telescope - or on a dead bird, which was doubtless how it was named.
Other species have pink on exposed skin, rather than feathers. This makes sense given the cost of producing carotenoids and the fact that feathers are moulted once a year. But if you refer back to the flamingo portrait above, you'll see that it favours pink all over - bill and legs, as well as feathers.
Australian Pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus, Nowra, New South Wales.
In part the pink bill pouch is due to blood vessels near the surface, but this is probably not
applicable to the bony upper mandible.

African Penguin Spheniscus demersus, south of Cape Town, South Africa.
The pink patches here definitely owe much of their colour to blood vessels;
when it's hot, more blood is directed there to assist in heat loss, so they're brighter pink.
Southern Caracara Caracara plancus, far southern Chile.
It's not a matter of losing heat down there!
Finally, a couple of examples of very attractive (to me, but probably more importantly to others of their species) pink legs.
Swallow-tailed Gull Creagrus furcatus, Genovesa, Galápagos.
A beautiful bird all round, from the pink legs up, and the world's only nocturnal gull.
Black-necked Stilt Himantopus mexicanus, Isabela, Galápagos.
So, pink is not as easy to find examples of as red, say, but it's worth looking for. Next time, a few other pink-bearing animals, mostly reptiles.



The happy wanderer. said...

What about Pink and Rose Robins? Then there is Roseate Spoonbills. It would be easier with flowers though!

Susan said...

Pink for girls and blue for boys only dates from the early 20th century. Prior to that it was the other way around, blue being a cool refined colour suitable for girls, pink being related to red and therefore the manly attributes of valour and courage.

Ian Fraser said...

Hello HW. You're quite right with your suggestions of course, and I ought to have mentioned them. The examples I use though tend to be determined by what I've got pics of! My only Rose Robin shot is a somewhat muddy old scanned slide, and the others have hitherto avoided my camera. But as you suggest, I've got lots of pink flower shots to choose from!

Interesting info thanks Susan - I hadn't known that. I wonder how it happened?

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