(noun) Ornamental feathers that are generally long, large and showy, possibly with unusual colors or shapes such as delicate tapers or round spatule-shaped tips. Plumes are not structured to support flight and instead are used for display, often for courtship rituals or territorial display, and they may be grown from the bird's crest, neck, wings, chest, rump or tail. When displayed, plumes may be draped, fanned or moved boldly, such as spread widely or vibrated to draw attention. Birds that feature prominent plumes include many types of egrets and cranes, game birds such as the red junglefowl and several hummingbird species, such as the black-billed streamertail and the marvelous spatuletail.
Many types of birds grow plumes during the mating and breeding seasons, but these ornamental feathers are often – though not always – lost after breeding has finished because they can be a survival liability because they make the bird more noticeable to predators. Before many plumed birds were protected, they would be hunted during the breeding season so the plumes could be harvested for decoration for clothing, art and furnishings.
To identify a bird by its plumes, note the color, length and shape of the plumes as well as the season during which the bird wears them. How the bird uses its plumes can also be clues for its identity.
Photo – Snowy Egret © Mike Baird; flickr.bairdphotos.com