Black and Brown Crow
4 Mar 2012, 7:01 PM,
Black and Brown Crow
            This Crow has been in my yard the last two days. His upper half is black and the lower half is rusty brown. Just thought I would share some pictures. - Pam
5 Mar 2012, 8:12 AM,
RE: Black and Brown Crow
(4 Mar 2012, 7:01 PM)Akitaslvr Wrote: This Crow has been in my yard the last two days. His upper half is black and the lower half is rusty brown. Just thought I would share some pictures. - Pam

Mixed parentage?

5 Mar 2012, 9:59 AM,
RE: Black and Brown Crow
The brown feathers are worn, the black are fresh.

5 Mar 2012, 9:14 PM,
RE: Black and Brown Crow
Does that mean this is a young crow that still losing juvenile feathers that are brown and transitioning to new black adult plumage? I kind of thought that was suppose to be done by the end of summer (August/September) last year. I've never seen worn feathers that are brown. - Pam
5 Mar 2012, 10:44 PM,
RE: Black and Brown Crow
It's very likely a bird that has retained some juvenile feathers. They are now excessively worn. Molt is controlled by many factors, including age and health, so it is not uncommon to have birds that do not molt according to a prescribed timing. As the feathers get older and more worn, they become more brown. This is one of the key factors in recognizing old vs. new feathers and it can be helpful in aging birds of all sorts.
7 Mar 2012, 6:37 AM,
RE: Black and Brown Crow
Thanks! That's interesting. I've never seen one like that before. - Pam
10 Mar 2012, 6:13 PM,
RE: Black and Brown Crow
My two cents' worth: I don't think these feathers are brown because they are worn. If that was the case we would be seeing ravens and crows with brown feathers all the time. Molted feathers that have laid out in the sun and rain will stay black for many months. Raven and crow feathers hundreds and even thousands of years old from archaeological contexts largely retain their black coloration. Also, if these feathers have been retained long enough to fade to such a degree, then we should expect them to be obviously frayed as well and in the photos I can not discern any such severe wear if indeed there is any wear at all. One occasionally may see ravens and crows, often first year birds, in the hand with year-old feathers that are less black than new feathers but I have never seen these old feathers be so brown. I submit, alternatively, that these feathers are brown because of some sort of pigment deficit issue. It is not uncommon at least in the Flagstaff area to see crows with white feathers (I have never seen ravens with white feathers). This makes me wonder if these brown feathers are influenced by the same factors that may cause an occasional complete loss of black pigment.
10 Mar 2012, 9:52 PM,
RE: Black and Brown Crow
Interesting discussion.

According to Pyle, the pattern expressed in these photos matches that of HY/SY molt. The brown feathers are those that would be retained from the hatch year.

I agree the images don't seem to illustrate severely worn feather edges, and perhaps there is an external factor that amplifies this example, but Pyle's illustration matches the photo's quite well.
11 Mar 2012, 8:47 AM,
RE: Black and Brown Crow
Stick with me on this, Roger. Remember the starling tertial!
11 Mar 2012, 12:59 PM,
RE: Black and Brown Crow
    I probably need to try to get some pictures of this crow from the front. When the sun hits his feathers from the front he has rusty streaks of color along with the black. His feathers really don't appear worn. Here's another back picture. I'll try for a front one when I see him again. - Pam
13 Mar 2012, 12:11 PM,
RE: Black and Brown Crow
Really, I must reiterate that these brown feathers represent the definition of worn feathers. I'm agreeing with Pyle and Roger here.
14 Mar 2012, 6:46 PM,
RE: Black and Brown Crow
Yes, really. And I still disagree. A normally black feather that is brown (e.g. a color change) does not represent the definition of "wear." It fits the definition of a normally black feather that is brown :>) The question is why in this case. While older worn feathers may be faded, let's think outside the a brown-feather-that-is-normally-black=a worn-feather box and consider the 5 points outlined below. "Wear", to my mind, implies some degree of erosion of the feather structure (i.e. barbs, barbules etc.). "Fade" implies a color change over time (due to sunlight, chemical changes and so on.). Taking into consideration the following 1) I have never seen a crow, raven, (or other large normally black feather) faded to this degree of brown ...and I have examined hundreds/thousands of such feathers including ones hundreds and even thousands of years old 2) black-pigmented (i.e. melanin) feathers may be among the most color-stable 3) feather color aberration is frequent in birds 4) I see no evidence of erosion in the the feathers in these images on my monitor and 5) many feathers may wear (e.g. erode) significantly with no indication of such a significant color change, I therefore conclude that this brown coloration, if accurate on my monitor, is due to some sort of pigmentation aberration. Succinctly stated, they are simply too brown and too unworn looking for age and wear to account for this degree of color difference (e.g. fading). If they ever faded to that degree of brown they should show very obvious wear which they don't. In fact, I think it may be nearly impossible for a crow or raven feather to ever fade to this degree of brown. If crow and raven feathers had any tendency to fade to this degree we would be seeing this all the time in these species but we don't. I promise you, dear readers, that there is a pigmentation issue going on with this bird. Keep in mind that I am not saying in any of this that these are not older feathers than the black ones. They appear to be retained, presumably, juvenile feathers and thus are probably older. What likely happened is something in this bird's world that influenced the melanin deposition (genetics? diet/nutrition? a stressor of some sort?) was responsible for these feathers being brown. So there. Roger, Pyle, and Christian, in this case, are wrong. Sorry guys. Embrace it and move on :>)
15 Mar 2012, 8:56 AM,
RE: Black and Brown Crow
Here's a link provided by Gerry that is a nice overview of feather coloration:

and this:

(note the crow)

15 Mar 2012, 6:33 PM,
RE: Black and Brown Crow
There is nothing to suggest melanism, leucism or other aberrant pigmentation outside of molt peculiarities. Throw in some lighting / camera stuff and you're there.

Confused Basic I Plumage

Prebasic I molt partial, evidently begins slightly earlier than Definitive Prebasic molt; yearlings in Illinois were molting secondaries and rectrices in May 1939, while adults had not begun to molt yet (Black 1941). Molt finished in Sep (Pyle 1997 ); involves body plumage, some medium wing-coverts, and 0–3 inner greater wing-coverts, but not rest of wing or tail (Dwight 1900, Emlen 1936a), whose feathers are retained for about 13 mo (Rea 1967). Duration of molt in individuals unknown.

Plumage similar to that of adults but violet and bluish-green gloss of upperparts less distinct, especially on wings and tail (Pearson 1936). Underparts duller black than in adults. Feathers of back, wing (particularly primaries and secondaries), and tail gradually fade to dusky brown and often show much wear, contrasting with remaining blackish plumage.
16 Mar 2012, 7:21 PM,
RE: Black and Brown Crow
I have seen many times what these authors are referring too and that is not what we are seeing here. So I'm still not buying it. I don't care if all 7 billion other people on the planet think that the brown of these feathers is due solely to age-related fading. Again: those feathers are too brown and too fresh for simple age-related fading/wear to explain what we are seeing. (note the quote you have mentions the wear) Couple that with 1) I have never seen, in thousands of feathers examined, any crow or any raven ever near that brown. Not even close...even when these are fully 12+ month-old juvenile feathers at or near the normal molting period and 2) they are not worn. They look quite unworn to me. Maybe Pam can zoom and crop from an original photo for a closer look. Note that when these feathers (remiges) will be molted will be in July and August and by then they will be faded and worn which is what the BNA account is referring to but they won't be this brown. At this time of year these will be heavily worn and frayed (especially the tips of the primaries) and those indeed are less black and even tinged brownish especially juvenile feathers but again nowhere near this brown. I still think these feathers are brown because of a pigmentation deficit/aberration issue.

And again, please note that I agree that this appears to be a first year bird and those are thus likely retained juvenile feathers. My explanation for their color is this is either 1) genetic, in which case they may grow in brown like this each time they are molted or 2) stress/diet/environment factors caused them turn out brown. (If the latter is the case this bird may have had an entirely brown plumage for a time.)

I have been at this biology thing long enough and stared at enough feathers to know 1) when something is aberrant and 2) canned explanations can occasionally be inadequate or wrong. Remember that not all phenomenon are explained via conventional book wisdom. That is why I said to think outside the box: don't just swallow the dogma of a-brown-crow-feather-is-a-worn feather explanation. Keep your mind open to the possibility that this may be something different. Don't ignore reality staring you in the face because it doesn't fit your preconception or what some book tells you (or that you are tempted to explain away as a computer monitor issue). I challenge anyone (who even cares at this point) to see if you ever see a crow (or raven) with feathers this brown. If you do see brown feathers they will 1) not be this brown, 2) they will be very heavily worn and 3) this will be generally be in July and August.

So let me put it this way: there's something goofy going on with that crow.

"You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink."

"How many legs does a dog have if you call its tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg." A. Lincoln

Do I have to get out that starling tertial and explain that to you all over again? :>) (...I still have it you know) Stick with me, Roger have I ever let you down? Come join me in the nirvana of Corvus feather enlightenment. :>)

16 Mar 2012, 11:19 PM,
RE: Black and Brown Crow
[Image: om1.jpg]
28 Mar 2012, 9:47 AM,
RE: Black and Brown Crow
1. we have 2 hairy woodpeckers coming to our feeder and the male has completely brown wings! the rest of the bird is normal hairy, and the female has no brown on the wings at all. so whoever's arguement this helps so be it.
2. we added northern rough-winged swallow to yard list.
3. our cassin's finches & american goldfinches are gone and we only have a couple oregon juncos left.
4. we have a pair of black hawks and they are calling to each other. maybe i can find a nest?
rich armstrong
28 Mar 2012, 10:24 AM,
RE: Black and Brown Crow
Here's a photo of a worn Arizona Woodpecker who is molting in some fresh, black, feathers.

Chuck, you will never get me to back down on this crow :-)

28 Mar 2012, 10:30 AM,
RE: Black and Brown Crow
Christian, this seems apt:
29 Mar 2012, 7:35 AM,
RE: Black and Brown Crow
Nice Jason!

I would start a discussion of Godfather III v. Godfather I & II, but we have enough trouble already...but, this color thing is a very interesting discussion.



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