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BIRDING 101
LESSON 3: CAMOUFLAGE OR BLENDING IN


We walked carefully near the rocky ledge. Our eyes were glued to the ground, searching for the nest of a Common Poorwill, a camouflage expert. Poorwills are rarely seen until they fly. The nest and eggs blend in with the surrounding rocks so well that we fear the possibility of stepping on them. Later in the day we are along a riparian area and easily observe the bright red, yellow, and black of a Western Tanager. Why are some birds so brightly colored and some so well camouflaged? In Lesson 2 we discussed feather color and factors that make birds stand out. Let's take a look at why and how birds blend into their surroundings.
Canyon Wren

Camouflage helps to avoid predators, a necessity for survival. The subtleties of camouflage are complex, but the goal is simple -- to cause the eye of a potential observer to send messages to the brain resulting in a meaningless mental image. Camouflage uses patterns of deception. So, when one of your fellow birders asks the question, "do you see that Common Snipe?", or "look at that beautiful Canyon Wren" and all you see is a mud flat or a sandstone cliff, just say, "the goal of meaningless mental images has been attained as intended."

Camouflage is also needed by the predators to avoid detection and to gain an advantage in capturing their next meal. Adapting to conflicting forces in nature is a continuing process. The hunter that is the most successful is the one having the best surprise skills, including camouflage. Prey species are continually improving their avoidance skills in order to survive.

Camouflage, or cryptic coloration, makes an individual inconspicuous. The complex art of camouflage is based on shading, disruption, shadow concealment, and background resemblance. For example, a bird with a gradation of color from dark shades on the back to lighter shades on the underside will disguise his form and present a flat surface image. Disruptions are those patterns that attract the observer to the pattern and not to the form, thus producing a deception. A shadow or a silhouette is very conspicuous. Therefore a bird will squat and remain immobile to avoid producing one or the other. As you observe birds in the future, try to pick out these characteristics. Marvel at how much Killdeer eggs look like rocks; how much a Barn Owl's back looks like the bark of the tree that he's perched in, and how a Brown Creeper is seldom seen unless he moves.


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