RFI: pigment in birds' bills etc

Subject: RFI: pigment in birds' bills etc
From: Ian Fraser <>
Date: Sat, 27 Jun 1998 10:40:01 +1000 (EST)
This is a rather odd, and doubtless naive enquiry, but it may help to
resolve a (mildly) raging debate among Canberra birdos at present. As you
may know if you look at the Hotline Highlights, a black pelican has been
hanging around Canberra lakes for most of the year. The debate centres
around whether it is 'naturally' black, or oil-stained. The weight of
opinion among observers favours the former, but a knowledgable member has
just tossed in the following plausible argument for the latter.

He argues that since melanin only replaces other pigment AND A BIRD'S BILL
CONTAINS NO PIGMENT, the pelican's black bill is evidence of oil staining.
With that given, he must be right, but is the proviso correct? I find it
hard to accept that a bird's bill has no pigment, in terms of UV protection
if nothing else.

Would someone like to take a minute or two to sort this one out for me/us?

Thanks in anticipation!

Ian Fraser, Canberra  
Environment Tours; Vertego Environmental Writing Consultancy
ph: 02 62491560 fax: 02 62473227

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