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Brilliance of Bird Feathers Revealed in New Photobook

The sea-blues of the Indian Roller; the gold, black and white of the Gray Junglefowl; the royal purple of the Golden-Breasted Starling: a bird’s feathers attract mates, provide camouflage from predators, and help them navigate in the air and on the ground. Robert Clark’s new book, Feathers: Displays of Brilliant Plumage (Chronicle), shows that feathers are also masterpieces of the natural world.

Clark’s photographs range from pulled back views of full feathers to details of color and form that may remind readers of Art-Deco renderings of the sun’s rays (Southern Giant Petrel) or a flowering plant (Victoria Crown Pigeon).

Clark began his effort to photograph hundreds of bird feathers with a 2011 assignment from National Geographic, he explains in his introduction. His interest in birds dates back to his childhood, when he observed migratory birds in his native Kansas, and to later when he learned about the bird’s place in Darwin’s understanding of evolution. The book’s texts, while brief, provide enough information about the evolution of feathers in general, and about their purposes for specific birds, to make the book a fascinating read.

Writer Carl Zimmer, in his preface to the book, also reminds readers that while they may not be able to observe the dance of a King Bird-of-Paradise in their hometown (Zimmer’s is near New Haven, Connecticut, which he notes is “hardly a wildlife refuge”), there is still “always some astonishing biology on display, if you think to look for it.” Clark’s book is certain to encourage readers to do just that.

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