Have you ever wondered why birds have the incredible coloring that they do? It's not as complicated as you think; the three primary functions of bird feather colors and patterns are: 1) to identify themselves in a flock; 2) to camouflage themselves and 3) to attract a mate. When you think about it, those are also pretty much the reasons why we humans desire feathered hair ornaments!
The often brilliant colors of feathers are produced by light refraction and/or the presence of various pigments, including melanins, carotenoids an porphyrins. Brown to black melanins not only add color to the feather but also make it denser and more resistant to breakdown by sunlight. Yellow, orange or red carotenoids are synthesized in plants and taken up by the cells of the feather follicle as it's developing. Red and green porphyrins are pigments that are produced by cells in the feather follicle as well. The bright blues and greens of many parrots are produced by constructive interference of light reflecting from different layers of the structures in feathers. White feathers lack pigment and scatter light diffusely. Down to the microscopic level, you can begin to appreciate the complexity that makes birds such a unique part of the animal kingdom.
A bird's feathers undergo wear and tear and are replaced periodically during its life through molting. New feathers are formed through the same follicle from which the old ones were fledged. Molting is not the same for every species of bird, and even differs from individual bird to bird. The season of the year, the temperature of the environment, nutrition and egg laying play a significant role in determining when a bird will molt as well as how long it will take to complete. All birds molt at least once a year and this process normally does not affect their ability to fly. Some may even molt up to three times per year. At The Feathered Head we endeavor to obtain naturally molted feathers whenever possible and support vendors who agree with our philosophy. Of course, with vintage and other specialized pieces it is impossible to know the feather's source. But we are sensitive to history: during the 18th, 19th, and even 20th Centuries, the international feather trade was booming. So much destruction was caused by market demand for extravagant head-dresses and exotic plumes as adornment for fashionable women in North America and Europe that a major campaign against it by conservationists led to the Lacey Act in 1900. Many credit this Act with causing the fashion to change and the feather market to finally collapse. Bird populations rebounded. Still in effect today, The Lacey Act protects both plants and wildlife by creating civil and criminal penalties for a wide array of violations. It most notably prohibits trade in wildlife, fish, and plants that have been illegally taken, transported or sold. In the United States, the use of certain feathers for religious and traditional purposes is governed by the Eagle Feather Law, which limits the possession of eagle and hawk feathers to certified and enrolled members of federally recognized Native American tribes.