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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). 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 of gray and buff, crisp pale edges, all feathers new and unblemished.

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