The eurasian woodcock (Scolopax rusticola) has become the bird with the whitest feathers ever analyzed by science, according to a new study. It should be said that the White color it has many nuances. A perfect target is supposed to be one capable of reflect 100% of light that falls on it, while black does the opposite: it absorbs it. Therefore, to measure how white something is, the percentage of light that it reflects is calculated. In the case of the feathers of this bird, it is 55%.
It may not seem like much, if we take into account that paints capable of reflecting 98% of light have already been achieved. However, in the case of bird feathers it is not usual. In fact, those of the Eurasian woodcock reflect 30% more light than those of any other bird previously measured.
And the funniest thing is that not a white bird. It only has a few whitish specks on its tail, which are used by both males and females for their mating rituals. They seek to shine to find a partner and, since live under a canopy of vegetation that makes it difficult for a lot of light to reach their feathers, they need to optimize what they reflect.
A white color close to perfection
Generally, the Eurasian woodcock hides its white feathers under the rest of the plumage, rather brown. This helps you camouflage between the leaves and the earth from the ground while looking for worms.
However, scientists have observed that both males and females display these white specks in their mating rituals. And shine quite. For this reason, the authors of the research that is now published in Royal Society Interface they took some of these white feathers and analyzed them using different techniques.
To begin with, they turned to electron microscopy to analyze its structure. Then, using spectrophotometry, they were able to measure the light reflectance. And finally, they used optical modeling that allowed them to track how light interacts inside the plume.
In this way they saw that the white color of the Eurasian woodcock is especially white. much more than the caspian tern (hydroprogne caspia), which held the record until now.
How do they manage to reflect so much light?
The test results showed that, at the microscopic level, the feathers contain laminar structures grouped together like a blind, which increase the area available for reflection, while preventing light from being lost between cracks in the interior of the feather. . In addition, they contain a network of keratin nanofibers and air chambers, which help light to be directed in all directions. Thus, they manage to reflect 55% of the light, showing bright white patches, which are very useful in courtship.
It should be noted that studying white animals in nature is interesting, in view of the search for whiter targets. In fact, it is something that has been done for a long time. For example, one of the paintings that reflects the most light was based on the structure of a specific species of beetle.
nature can give us a lot of ideas. And the truth is that it is good that we look at them, because the white color can help us save a lot on air conditioning, while we fight climate change. Perhaps this bird, with its 55% light reflection, is not the best animal to be inspired by, but at least it leads the way among birds. That is also interesting.