Tawny owl colours, new research

This video says about itself:

An Introduction to the Tawny Owl (Strix aluco) – by Wild Owl

This short film by owl conservationist Ian McGuire takes a brief look at the familiar too-whit too-whoo nocturnal owl of woodlands – the tawny owl.

From the Journal of Avian Biology:

Is the denser contour feather structure in pale grey than in pheomelanic brown tawny owls (Strix aluco) an adaptation to cold environments?

Katja Koskenpato, Kari Ahola, Teuvo Karstinen, Patrik Karell

Published online: 14 July 2015

In colour polymorphic species morphs are considered to be adaptations to different environments, where they have evolved and are maintained because of their differential sensitivity to the environment. In cold environments the plumage insulation capacity is essential for survival and it has been proposed that plumage colour is associated with feather structure and thereby the insulation capacity of the plumage. We studied the structure of contour feathers in the colour polymorphic tawny owl (Strix aluco).

A previous study of tawny owls in the same population has found strong selection against the brown morph in cold and snowy winters whereas this selection pressure is absent in mild winters. We predicted that grey morphs have a denser and more insulative plumage, enabling them to survive better in cold climate compared to brown ones. The insulative plumulaceous part of the dorsal contour feathers was larger and the fine structure of the plumulaceous part of the feather was denser in grey tawny owls than in brown ones. In the ventral contour feathers the plumulaceous part of the feather was denser in females than in males and in older birds without any differences between morphs.

Our study suggests that insulative microscopical feather structures differ between colour morphs and we propose that feather structure may be a trait associated with morph-specific survival in cold environments.

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