Plumage refers to a bird’s feathers, including color, shape, pattern, and arrangement. All birds have feathers and are the only animal with feathers. There are six types of feathers. These include contour, down, semiplume, filoplume, powder, and bristle. Feathers provide an insulated, protective layer that assists with flight and temperature regulation. Certain feathers are largely ornamental and used for display. Each has a different and characteristic shape, size, location, and purpose.

Various processes can result in different colors and patterns. These include sexual dimorphism, where female and male birds have different physical characteristics. Males often have much brighter and distinctively colored feathers that are likely related to mating rituals, camouflage, and reproductive ability.

Birds also shed and grow new feathers at least once a year in a process called molting. These new feathers can have a different appearance. Molts are often timed to occur before a migratory flight or before breeding season so that they do not interfere with other natural processes. Awareness of these processes allows for easier identification of birds.

Male Hairy Woodpecker specimen
Bullocks Oriole
Yellow-Rumped Warbler
Greater Roadrunner
Stellar's Jay perching on a limb of conifer tree
Mexican Spotted Owl
Western Bluebird
White Throated Swift
Western Tanager