While my finches may not get a blue ribbon in an NFSS (National Finch and Softbill Society) show competition where birds are bred for form as well as color and several other attributes, my birds are nonetheless “showy.” In fact, they’re darn brilliant.
After following a “rousing” discussion of show Zebras on the NFSS board this past week, I stopped at one of my Zebra cages. None have been bred to show, but it is immediately apparent they are larger and more robust than anything I’ve seen in a pet store. Studying them more, I saw how their colors jumped out with a remarkable intensity, definition and clarity. They are definitely worthy of a photo shoot by Roy Beckham or Gerhard Hofmann.
Down the row of cages, I paused at the Yellow Stars to check the status on a group of those nearing breeding status. The richness and depth of their yellow crowns was evident. Then it was on to check the Peters and Dybowski Twinspots, and their reds were the deepest blood red. My Rosy TSs’ coloring is anything but subtle. And so it was, cage after cage, species after species, where “showy” was an apt name, though someone might gush they were magnificent. Even the Owls have whiter whites!
What’s the secret to all of these “picture perfect” specimens of finchitude? It’s all in the greens—vegetable greens, richly laden with carotenes, plus an ample supply of Vitamin D3.
What we see when we look at birds’ feathers is a refraction of light, or the reflected properties of the feathers. These properties are made up of pigmentations, structural coloration and sometimes iridescence.
Pigmentation is derived from melanins, carotenoids and porphyrins. The melanins give us the appearance of grays, blacks and browns. Carotenoids produce reds, oranges and yellow. The porphyrins also provide reds, browns and greens.
Some greens, all blues and whites are actually structural colorations, refracted combinations of the basic colors, and are dependent on complex structural formations of the feathers. You could think of them as tiny mirrors, bouncing and mixing colors to give the appearance of the colors we see.
Melanin is a class of compounds found in plants used as pigmentations, which are derivatives of the amino acid tyrosine. These pigmentations are “brought to life” by the presence of Vitamin D3. Many of these are found in carotene-producing plants.
Carotenoids (carotenes) provide the reds, oranges and yellows we see in feathers. They are found in carrots, mustard greens, turnip greens, collard greens, broccoli, parsley, yellow or summer squash, and dandelion greens, as well as several other plants.
Porphyrins contribute to greens, reds and browns. They are found in green leaves and usually contain a trace amount of zinc.
As you can see, all three types of pigmentation rely heavily on the greens mentioned, with Vitamin D3 and Zinc used as catalysts in some instances. Additionally, carotenes are anti-oxidants. Carotene is fat soluble and excessive carotene is non-toxic. The degree of yellow seen in an egg yolk is directly attributable to the amount of carotene the producer has digested. The occasional egg that is broken here usually has a deep yellow to orange yolk.
If you think your birds have a lackluster plumage and really would like that color to pop out, then it is time to examine the diet you are using. If you want those intense, beautiful reds, yellows, browns, blacks, grays and whites—it’s all in the greens.
Gulf Coast Finches