National Geographic Society Newsroom

Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week: Black plumage

Many birds make use of black plumage, whole or only partially. In feathers it is melanin pigments that produce the black to reddish-brown colour, these pigments are enclosed in granular structures called melanosomes. The melanosomes make black feathers stronger and more resistant to wear than non-melanised feathers, and often birds that have mostly white plumage...

Many birds make use of black plumage, whole or only partially. In feathers it is melanin pigments that produce the black to reddish-brown colour, these pigments are enclosed in granular structures called melanosomes. The melanosomes make black feathers stronger and more resistant to wear than non-melanised feathers, and often birds that have mostly white plumage will have wing feathers, or wing tips that are black because these areas often experience the most wear.

Thank you to all the photographers that submitted photos of  birds with black plumage, your pictures can create awareness about the variety and beauty of birds that make use of this type of plumage. Here we present the Top 25 photographs of birds with black plumage.

Greater racket-tailed drongos are an Asian species noted for its long outer tail feathers, in moulting birds these tail feathers may be absent (Ganesh Rao)
Black eagles breed in tropical and subtropical Asia, and adults have all black plumage (Panthera Tigris)
Blacksmith lapwings are distributed from Kenya to central Tanzania, and south and southwest Africa, they defend their territories by rushing at intruders while calling (Edwin Godinho)
Ashy-crowned sparrow-larks are found across South Asia, males have a pattern of black and white plumage on their face (Jay Patel)
Black bulbuls are distributed in southern Asia, they feed on insects and seeds, within this species there are ten subspecies that have varying plumage shades (Anupam Kamal)
Long-tailed shrikes have mostly rufous plumage with a dark mask, photographed here in Darjeeling, India (Ajoy Kumar Dawn)
Birds with mostly white plumage, like this black-headed gull, will have wing feathers, or wing tips that are black, these areas experience the most wear, and the black colouration makes the feathers stronger (Gur Simrat Singh)
A rain quail in Maharashtra, India, males have a black breast patch, and black and white head pattern (Indranil Bhattacharjee)
House crows have an Asian origin but have been introduced to many parts of the world, they feed on small reptiles, small mammals, and refuse in human habitats (Gargi Biswas)
White-bellied minivets can be found in open, dry scrub, grassland, and dry cultivation in Nepal and India (Sandipan Ghosh)
Eurasian collared dove preening its feathers in West Bengal, India, these birds are native to temperate and subtropical Asia, but have been introduced other areas over the last 100 years, increasing its range (Ritwick Bhattacharyya)
White-spotted fantails are found in south and central India, they have slaty grey plumage and feed on insects (Praveen K Bhat)
Dark-fronted babblers are found in the Western Ghats of India, and forests of Sri Lanka, their plumage is brown and white, with a black hood (Pradnya Paralkar)
White-breasted waterhen photographed in Bangalore, India, they are found in marshes of tropical Asia (Arun Samak)
The diet of the red-vented bulbul consists of fruits, insects, and flower petals; they have an aggressive nature, which, in combination with their fruit eating, makes them one of the world’s worst alien invasive species (Shalini Jain)
Pied bush chats are found in central, south, and southeast Asia, males have mostly black plumage while females are mostly brown in colour (Gagan Bedi)
Red-headed woodpeckers are found in pine savannas and open forests of temperate North America, due to habitat loss, and decreased food availability they are listed as near threatened by the IUCN (Rhonda Lane)
Savanna nightjars are found in south and south east Asia in open forests and scrub areas, photographed here in Haryana, India (Sudhir Kadam)
Grey-winged blackbirds feed on insects, fruits, and berries (Shantharama Holla K)
Ayre’s hawk-eagles are distributed in the sub-Saharan region, their diet consists mainly of birds, as seen here, especially doves and pigeons (Andrew Keys)
Black redstarts breed in south and central Europe, Britain and Ireland, males are dark grey to black on their upper parts with a red lower tail and rump, while females are grey brown with a red lower tail and rump (Nishith Dwivedi)
Heart-spotted woodpeckers have mostly black plumage with heart shaped black spots, photographed here in Karnataka, India (Ramesh Aithal)
The Masai ostrich in Kenya is a subspecies of the common ostrich which is native to Africa, the pink thighs and neck of this bird will get brighter during the breeding season (Subhamoy Das)
Coal tits are found in temperate and subtropical Eurasia and northern Africa, their throat and neck feathers are glossy blue-black, a plumage colour that young birds lack (Halit Uzun)
Black vultures have a Nearctic and Neotropic distribution, found in open lands, moist lowland forests, grassland, and shrubland. Like all other vultures they feed mainly on carrion (Jola Charlton)

Our mission is to build a global community around the freedom and beauty of birds in the wild as ambassadors for the natural ecosystems that they depend upon. They are the music, decoration, and character of every terrestrial habitat on the planet and have been around since the dinosaurs. They are the witnesses and ambassadors of the awesome power of nature. The wide availability of good, cheap optics has opened their world to us for the last few decades. Amazing, affordable DSLR cameras with long lenses are delivering brilliant digital bird imagery to online communities.

We are in a day-and-age during which more bird species are threatened with extinction than ever before. The Wild Birds! Revolution aims to publish the “Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week” to 1 million people every week by the end of the year. That is a revolution that will change the world! Join thousands of other weekend naturalists, photographers, birders, experts, hikers, nature-lovers, guides, scientists, conservationists and artists that share the thousands of wild bird photographs submitted to the Wild Bird Trust website and Facebook page. Thousands of wild bird enthusiasts are going out every day to photograph our planet’s beautiful birdlife. Pick up your camera, fill your bird feeder, open your heart, and join the Wild Birds! Revolution!!

Edited by Laurie Johnson, Campaign Manager


Top 25 Wild Bird Photographs of the Week: Courtship Displays

About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 14,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit or follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Meet the Author

Steve Boyes
Steve Boyes has dedicated his life to conserving Africa's wilderness areas and the species that depend upon them. After having worked as a camp manager and wilderness guide in the Okavango Delta and doing his PhD field work on the little-known Meyer's Parrot, Steve took up a position as a Centre of Excellence Postdoctoral Fellow at the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology. He has since been appointed the Scientific Director of the Wild Bird Trust and is a 2014 TED Fellow. His work takes him all over Africa, but his day-to-day activities are committed to South Africa's endemic and Critically Endangered Cape Parrot (Poicephalus robustus). Based in Hogsback Village in the Eastern Cape (South Africa), Steve runs the Cape Parrot Project, which aims to stimulate positive change for the species through high-quality research and community-based conservation action. When not in Hogsback, Steve can be found in the Okavango Delta where he explores remote areas of this wetland wilderness on "mokoros" or dug-out canoes to study endangered bird species in areas that are otherwise inaccessible. Steve is a 2013 National Geographic Emerging Explorer for his work in the Okavango Delta and on the Cape Parrot Project.