Melanin basis of ornamental feather colors in male zebra finches

Kevin J. Mcgraw, Kazumasa Wakamatsu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


The carotenoid-pigmented bill of Zebra Finches (Taeniopygia guttata) has received much recent attention as a sexually selected signal of quality, but these birds also display several sexually dichromatic plumage traits, including rust-colored cheek patches, a black breast band, and brown flanks. Black, brown, and earth-toned features in animals are thought to be produced by melanin pigments, but few studies have identified the melanin content of such colors in bird feathers. We used a series of biochemical techniques to investigate the pigmentary basis of these plumage colors in male Zebra Finches. All three feather traits contained melanin pigments, but varied in the amounts of the two basic forms of melanin (eumelanin and phaeomelanin). Black breast feathers contained predominantly eumelanin, whereas cheek and flank feathers contained extraordinarily high concentrations of phaeomelanin. Conventional methods of carotenoid analysis detected no carotenoids in either the cheek or flank feathers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)686-690
Number of pages5
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2004
Externally publishedYes


  • Carotenoids
  • Eumelanin
  • Phaeomelanin
  • Pigments
  • Plumage coloration
  • Taeniopygia guttata
  • Zebra Finch

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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