Methods for extracting and analyzing carotenoids from bird feathers

Matthew B. Toomey, Dustin J. Smith, Desirae M. Gonzales, Kevin J. McGraw

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


Carotenoid pigments serve many endogenous functions in organisms, but some of the more fascinating are the external displays of carotenoids in the colorful red, orange and yellow plumages of birds. Since Darwin, biologists have been curious about the selective advantages (e.g., mate attraction) of having such ornate features, and, more recently, advances in biochemical methods have permitted researchers to explore the composition and characteristics of carotenoid pigments in feathers. Here we review contemporary methods for extracting and analyzing carotenoids in bird feathers, with special attention to the difficulties of removal from the feather keratin matrix, the possibility of feather carotenoid esterification and the strengths and challenges of different analytical methods like high-performance liquid chromatography and Raman spectroscopy. We also add an experimental test of current common extraction methods (e.g., mechanical, thermochemical) and find significant differences in the recovery of specific classes of carotenoids, suggesting that no single approach is best for all pigment or feather types.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCarotenoids
Subtitle of host publicationCarotenoid and Apocarotenoid Analysis
EditorsEleanore T. Wurtzel
PublisherAcademic Press Inc
Number of pages39
ISBN (Print)9780323999755
StatePublished - Jan 2022

Publication series

NameMethods in Enzymology
ISSN (Print)0076-6879
ISSN (Electronic)1557-7988


  • Avian
  • Canary xanthophyll
  • High performance liquid chromatography
  • Ketocarotenoids
  • Mechanical extraction
  • Plumage
  • Raman spectroscopy
  • Saponification
  • Thermochemical extraction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology


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