STRUCTURAL COLOUR: STAR SPECIES NUMBER 5
Special Power: Invisible Hat!
The budgerigar, Melopsittacus undulates, is a long-tailed, seed-eating parrot usually nicknamed the budgie or, in American English, the parakeet. Budgies are the only species in the genus Melopsittacus. Found wild throughout the drier parts of Australia, prior to colonisation they had survived harsh inland conditions for five million years.
The origin of the budgie’s name is unclear. First recorded in 1805, budgerigars are popular pets around the world due to their small size, low cost, and ability to mimic human speech. They are the third most popular pet in the world, after the domesticated dog and cat.
In nature, wild budgies are green and yellow with black, scalloped markings on the nape, back, and wings. Budgies bred in captivity appear in a variety of colours: blues, whites, yellows, greys, and even with small crests. Juveniles and chicks are monomorphic – i.e. male and female birds appear the same. Adult birds are told apart by the colour of the cere, the fleshy skin just above the beak where the budgies nostrils are located, and by their behaviour.
The budgie also wears a special ‘hat’ that is invisible to us but not to other budgies …
The plumage colours of most birds are the result of different types of pigments that are deposited into feathers while they are regrowing after moult. However, pigments alone do not produce all bird feather colours. Blues, such as those seen in hyacinthine macaws, Anodorhynchus hyacinthinus, and white, such as the snowy color of Bali mynahs, Leucopsar rothschildi, typically result from small changes in feather structure that alters their light reflective properties.
These fundamental modifications cause violet and blue light to be selectively reflected from the feather surface in the case of violet/blue feathers, while white feathers reflect all visible light. In short, violets, blues and whites are structural colors, or schemochromes. The colours reflected by the budgies ‘hat’ are beyond the spectrum visible to humans but they are quite visible to budgies!