Having written about hornbill ‘eyelashes’ the other day I also wanted to mention the patterns that can be accomplished with feathers. While many birds of course go in for rather ‘blocky’ sections of colours on their plumage (like these pheasants) some rather less abruptly changing patterns are possible. Above we have a toucan with some wonderfully ‘soft’ edges to the colours on the head and throat that gently blend into each other giving the impression these have been daubed on and the colour intensity changes in the yellow of the throat in a similarly smooth manner.
Below is a rather more dramaticly patterned duck but still rather different from the classic blocks-of-colour approach. The chest and wing feathers may appear to be an odd grey shade but are in fact made up of extremely small stripes of black and white. The effect is quite dramatic when seen up close and shows the level of detail that feathers can provide at very small scales.
I mention all this for no other reason really than the fact that I’d like to see more things like these illustrated for dinosaurs from time to time. Despite the huge variety of feather forms and colours and patterns, dinosaurs are often illustrated in a quite conservative manner. This is understandable perhaps given that in their early years (geologically speaking) one would perhaps not expect dinosaurs to have really developed the repetoire of colours and shapes that modern birds have a good hundred million years later. However, dinosaurs feathers were diverse in form (as seen in things like Beipiaosaurus and Epidexipteryx) and assuming they were displaying or signaling to one another with their feathers one might expect colours and patterns to evolve quickly being under strong selective pressures and given that feathers probably arose in the Middle Jurassic, by the time the major taxa generally seen as being representative of feathered dinosaurs rolls around (things like Microraptor, Caudipteryx etc.) that has had some 30 million years to innovate which can go a long way.