Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kinglet eyelashes

As photographic subjects, kinglets present few challenges. They forage in low bushes and scrub much of the time and are not at all skittish. Yes, they flick their wings and rapidly flit from branch to branch, but with a fast shutter speed, their quick movements can be captured quite easily. I’ve taken many, many shots of kinglets, and have vaguely wondered why I usually see some blurriness around their eyes, especially those of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, even when the rest of their feathers appear reasonably sharp.

Last week, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet graced me with its presence at eye level in good light for 30 seconds or so. I managed a few decent shots. When I magnified one of them, I saw what appeared to be..... eyelashes! I didn’t know kinglets have eyelashes. Or do they? But, I could count them, for heaven's sake.

Kinglets’ eye areas are described as having a “grayish-white eye ring broken at the top,” or a “white, broken eye ring.” But what about these Hollywood-style, curly eyelashes?

So, I goggled for quite a while and finally found this: “Several bird species, such as ostriches, hornbills, rheas, cuckoos, and some owls in the genus Bubo, which includes the Great Horned Owl, are known to have eyelashes. These eyelashes actually consist of bristles resembling mammalian eyelashes, and possibly serve to protect the eye against dust and other debris. Bristles are simplified feathers that consist only of a stiff, tapered rachis with a few basal barbs. The feathers have both sensory and protective functions.” Claudia Zan, research assistant, Home Study Course in Bird Biology Cornell Lab of O

That’s right. I remember seeing beautiful, long eyelashes on ostriches and rheas in zoos. At Washington, D.C.'s National Zoo, I photographed this Greater Rhea whose eyelashes were hard to miss.

But kinglets are not mentioned as being among the birds with eyelashes, and so the question remains. Do kinglets have eyelashes, or are they, like those of Hollywood starlets, faux?

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