At first glance, the Great Argus is a quiet, foraging, pheasant-like bird from the Phasianidae family — until mating season. The wing feathers are the crown jewel of the Argus’s plumage. In an elaborate mating dance, the male Argus fans its wings toward the female, creating a conical display of spots. (Robert Clark)
If you were to pick up a spotted eagle-owl’s feather, you might think it doesn’t look like anything special. It has an uneven, coffee-brown color and white patches. The leading edge is a row of stunted barbs; on the other side the delicate tendrils wisp away.
But this unassuming tattered edge makes for one of the most fascinating feathers in the world. Although the design creates drag, it can also muffle the sound of the bird’s approach to prey before it swiftly folds its talons around an unsuspecting mouse or insect.
Photographer Robert Clark’s new book, “Feathers: Displays of Brilliant Plumage” (Chronicle Books, 2016), reveals feathers like this one as the works of art and engineering that they are. It’s no wonder that human biomimicry of birds and their wings has become such an important part of our lives.