Museum specimens are valuable for studies of plumage color in birds, but feather color may fade over time and not accurately reflect the colors of live birds. In particular, it has been suggested that ultraviolet (UV) color may be more susceptible to degradation than human-visible colors. We used a reflectance spectrophotometer to measure feather color in five species of passerines for which museum specimens were collected consistently over the past 100 years. We found that the feather colors of museum specimens collected within the past 50 years were related closely to the feather colors of live birds. In fact, over a wide range of different colors, we found little change in color measurements for recent (<50 years old) specimens. Furthermore, UV color was not affected more severely by fading than human-visible colors when we confined our analyses to recent specimens. These results provide strong support for the continued use of museum specimens to examine coloration in birds, provided that the specimens were collected relatively recently.
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Vol. 125 • No. 4