Birds-of-paradise are nature's prime examples of the evolution of color by sexual selection. Their brilliant, structurally colored feathers play a principal role in mating displays. The structural coloration of both the occipital and breast feathers of the bird-of-paradise Lawes' parotia is produced by melanin rodlets arranged in layers, together acting as interference reflectors. Light reflection by the silvery colored occipital feathers is unidirectional as in a classical multilayer, but the reflection by the richly colored breast feathers is three-directional and extraordinarily complex. Here we show that the reflection properties of both feather types can be quantitatively explained by finite-difference time-domain modeling using realistic feather anatomies and experimentally determined refractive index dispersion values of keratin and melanin. The results elucidate the interplay between avian coloration and vision and indicate tuning of the mating displays to the spectral properties of the avian visual system.
Keywords: biophotonics; body colors; courtship; reflectance; signaling.