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Why a crow might not appear to be ‘all black’

VARIABLE APPEARANCE: An American Crow showing its glossy wings and tail and black lores. Art by David Sibley

It’s easy to say that a crow is “all black.” You don’t have to be a birdwatcher to know that all of a crow’s feathers are black. But a closer look reveals that, at any given moment, even though all of the crow’s feathers are the same color, they do not all look the same. This is partly because of body contours and real-world lighting effects and partly because the feathers on different parts of the body have different textures.

Imagine a jacket made of alternating strips of different fabrics: velvet, cotton, and silk. Even if all of the fabric was dyed to exactly the same color (for example, black), the distinctive textures would make the strips of different fabrics obvious. The different textures of feathers on a bird create similar effects.

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David Sibley

David Sibley

David Sibley writes the column “ID Toolkit” in every issue of BirdWatching. He published the Sibley Guide to Birds in 2000, the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior in 2001, and Sibley’s Birding Basics in 2002. He is also the author of the Sibley Guide to Trees (2009), the Sibley Guide to Birds-Second Edition (2014), and guides to birds of eastern and western North America (2016). He is the recipient of the American Birding Association’s Roger Tory Peterson Award for lifetime achievement in promoting the cause of birding and a recognition award from the National Wildlife Refuge System for his support of bird conservation.

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