Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, contests and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Why most birds look their best in fall plumage

A FAMILIAR BIRD TRANSFORMED: A female American Robin in worn plumage (left, typical of July) and fresh plumage (right, typical of October).
A FAMILIAR BIRD TRANSFORMED: A female American Robin in worn plumage (left, typical of July) and fresh plumage (right, typical of October). Art by David Sibley

If I asked you to name the season when birds are looking their best, I suspect you would answer “spring.” That’s when most species are in their most showy and colorful breeding plumage. But I would like to make a case for fall as the season when birds are actually at their most beautiful.

Spring birds certainly capture the headlines with their bright colors and contrasting patterns. Birds like buntings, warblers, and tanagers have just returned to their nesting territories and use their brilliant color to show off for mates and rivals. The beauty of fall birds is more subtle — delicate shadings

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a BirdWatching member to access our first-rate articles and columns on bird ID and photography as well as quarterly webinars hosted by experts in the field.

Read our newsletter!

Sign up for our free e-newsletter to receive news, photos of birds, attracting and ID tips, and more delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up for Free
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.

David Sibley on social media