Birds’ incredible range of color patterns can be useful for identification, but the diversity can also be overwhelming.
The key to deciphering color patterns is understanding a few basic facts about feathers. First, they grow in organized rows, always out from the body and curving back toward the tail. Second, each feather overlaps the one behind it to form a smooth outer contour, like shingles. All we normally see on a bird are the tips of its feathers.