Hidden feather patterns tell the story of birds

Three breast feathers from three individual Streaked Shearwater birds (Calonectris leucomelas), scanned simultaneously in high resolution X-ray fluorescence microscopy. Regular banding of the element zinc can be seen along the length of the feathers. 

Three breast feathers from three individual Streaked Shearwater birds (Calonectris leucomelas), scanned simultaneously in high resolution X-ray fluorescence microscopy. Regular banding of the element zinc can be seen along the length of the feathers. 

Shearwaters are migratory marine birds that travel in a figure-of-eight pattern between the coasts of Siberia and Japan to Tasmania.

Placing one of the undistinguished grey feathers from a shearwater into the brilliant light of the X-ray fluorescence microscopy beam reveals something unexpected.