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Word of the Week: Biochrome

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Word of the week is biochrome [BAHY-oh-krohm] (noun): A coloring matter that is produced by a plant or animal-a natural pigment.

Nature comes in so many different beautiful colours. A great example of this are the different colours of a bird’s feathers. These colours come from biochrome pigments which naturally occur in bird feathers: melanin, porphyrins, and carotenoids.

One of the most colourful birds, which can easily be spotted against the white of the winter snow, is the male Northern Cardinal. The level of brightness and vigour in their red colour is highly dependent on their diet. Male cardinals get their carotenoids from the food that they eat. These carotenoids will accumulate in the cells of their growing feathers, and depending on a few factors, they will appear as a bright red colour in their plumage. An example of carotenoid-rich foods that a Northern Cardinal will eat, especially during the winter months, is bright red fruits and berries. This means that if you see a male Northern cardinal that is looking extra bright and red, it has probably been eating loots of carotenoid-rich foods.

Keep an eye out for Northern Cardinals, and their bright red feathers, on your next winter visit to High Park!