How Black Feathers Keep Ravens Cool

Surprisingly, lighter plumage isn't necessarily better in hotter climates.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of The National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.


This is BirdNote.

Above a desert landscape, a raven soars, sleek black feathers against a vast blue sky.

The desert seems an unlikely choice for this all-black bird. But ravens thrive even in the hot, arid Southwest, where common sense suggests that light-colored feathers would be a better adaptation to the scorching sun.

But as it turns out, a raven's black plumage works quite well in the desert. Black feathers do conduct the sun’s warming rays, but they concentrate that solar heat near the feathers’ surface. All it takes is a light breeze to move all that heat away from the raven’s dark feathers.

Light-colored feathers absorb some of the sun’s rays, too. But they also tend to trap the heat closer to the skin, where it’s harder for cooling breezes to reach. So in even a slight wind, the skin of a black-feathered bird stays cooler than the skin of a white-feathered one.

For BirdNote, I'm Ashley Ahearn.



Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Sallie Bodie

Editor: Ashley Ahearn

Associate Producer: Ellen Blackstone

Assistant Producer: Mark Bramhill

Narrator: Ashley Ahearn

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Common Raven call [132161] recorded by Gerrit Vyn. “Houston In Two Seconds (Soundtrack Version)” by Ry Cooder, from “Paris Texas Original Motion Picture Soundtrack” 2001

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BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.

© 2019 BirdNote   December 2014/2019

ID#  CORA-08-2014-12-15   CORA-08b