We already know that birds have feathers to protect them from the elements and help them fly. But why do some birds bring the flashy colors and pretty patterns, while others are brown, streaky and plain?

Generally speaking, a bird’s color and pattern can serve one of two purposes: camouflage or communication. Let’s take a look.


The patterns of browns and reds you see in many bird species give them the ability to blend into the background. Think of the Brown Creeper. If he needs to freeze in place while foraging up and down the length of a tree, his brown mottled pattern makes him virtually invisible to predators.

In many different bird species, males are brightly colored and females are not. For example, female American Goldfinches are drab olive-brown, which keeps them well-hidden in their treetop nests. Also, the plumage of female Red-winged Blackbirds has neither red nor black. Just streaky brown feathers that let them blend right in with their ground nests.


The purpose of color in birds is to send specific messages to other birds. Colorful feathers can serve multiple purposes, such as:

  • Court and attract mates - the brighter, deeper the feather color is, the more healthy a male is perceived to be. For example, female House Finches prefer to mate with the brightest male, signifying he is healthy and strong enough to help build a solid nest. Meanwhile - females have no red coloring to blend into their surroundings.
  • Maintain territory - some male bird species, such as the Red-winged Blackbird devotes days on end to singing and displaying his red shoulder badges, a warning to other males to stay away from his turf.
  • Distract predators - similar to maintaining territory, birds sometimes use their plumage to distract predators, which they may have to do to protect their nests.

We all delight in the colors and patterns of birds. But knowing how a bird’s unique look helps it survive and thrive lets us deepen our appreciation for these amazing creatures. Do your part to help your backyard birds stay well-nourished by filling your feeders with a high-quality, nutritious mix. Lyric Supreme Mix has 12 ingredients including sunflower seeds and nuts, giving birds the proteins and fats they need.

The Brown Creeper’s muted brown coloring helps it camouflage into a tree, making it virtually invisible to predators. Michel VIARD / iStock / Getty Images Plus
The Red-winged Blackbird will use its bright red shoulder badges and loud song to warn other males to stay away from his territory. KenCanning / iStock / Getty Images Plus