Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Bird Color Conundrum - 17 Shades of Gray

We already covered the colors that span the gap between red and brown - so now we can move on to the equally perplexing realm of the grayscale.  Many birds have some sort of coloration between white and black - and from the Slaty-tailed Trogon to the Snowy Egret, these colors can be baffling to the average observer.  This post, organized from lightest to darkest, should help quell your worries about this color conundrum:

White - The presence of all color - everything is being reflected back into your eyes.
Example: White-throated Sparrow, White Ibis, White-eared Ground-Sparrow

Snowy - This color is so ridiculously close to white it shouldn't even exist.  But "Snowy Owl" sounds a hell of a lot cooler than "White Owl", so we'll keep it.
Example: Snowy Owl, Snowy Cotinga, Snowy Egret, Snowy Plover

Snowy Owl - Dare County, NC
Ivory - The color of ivory, a yellowish off-white - it's the stuff they killed elephants for, and why there are all those Europeans hanging out in Africa in Heart of Darkness.
Example: Ivory Gull

Ash - The color of ash - like the bottom of the fire pit at the campground.  A light, washed-out gray.
Example: Ash-throated Flycatcher

Ash-throated Flycatcher - Dare County, NC (same day as the Snowy Owl above, I might add!)
Ashy - Almost the color of ash.  Almost.
Example: Ashy-headed Greenlet

Glaucous - In Latin, glaucus means blue-gray.  In English, it's basically a light gray with a slightly bluish tone.
Example: Glaucous Gull, Glaucous-winged Gull

Cinereous - Quite similar to ash, but slightly darker and tinged with brown.  Cinis means "ashes" in Latin.
Example: Cinereous Tinamou, Cinereous Finch

Grayish - Another one of those "-ish" suffixes.  It's pretty much gray...
Example: Grayish Saltator

Gray - Just saying "gray" can be a bit vague - but specifically, it is the exact halfway point between black and white.
Example: Gray Catbird, Gray Gull, Gray Flycatcher, Gray Hawk

Silver - Ag. The color of the element. A shining, sparkling, gray...but on birds it's really just gray.
Example: Silver-breasted Broadbill, Silver Oriole, Silver-beaked Tanager

Dusky - The color of the sky as the last wisps of sunlight recede o'er the horizon. Dark gray.
Example: Dusky Flycatcher

Sooty - The stuff that collects on the inside of chimneys and covers the living room carpet every Christmas morning. The color of burned carbon.
Example: Sooty Tern, Sooty Shearwater

Slate - One of my favorite colors - a dark gray, with a bluish tinge (like the metamorphic rock).  Basically a much darker version of glaucous.
Example: Slate-throated Redstart

Slate-throated Redstart - Santa Elena, Costa Rica

Slaty - Almost the color of slate.  Almost.  It seems like this is the form of "slate" used to describe birds more frequently, but I may be wrong.
Example: Slaty-backed Gull, Slaty Antwren, Slaty-tailed Trogon

Plumbeous -  Lead-colored. Like Ferruginous, this color comes from the latin name of the element.
Example: Plumbeous Vireo

Coal - The color of the fossil fuel West Virginians and Tea Party-ers love so much.  Almost black, like how snowy is almost white.
Example: Coal-crested Finch

Black - The absence of color.  No light is reflected back.  Everyone knows this.
Example: Great Black-backed Gull, Black-cheeked Woodpecker, Common Black-Hawk, Melodious Blackbird

Black-cheeked Woodpecker - La Selva, Costa Rica


  1. Nice analogies.

  2. Very smart! Congrats to an excellent blog. Keep it up guys.

  3. I hope that someday you will see a Silver-beaked Tanager because it is crazy shiny silver. Cool post altogether.