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Why Are Bluebirds Blue?

It's a trick of the light!

Why are bluebirds blue? Unlike many other bird colors, blue is not a pigment but a color produced by the structure of the feathers. Tiny air pockets and melanin pigment crystals in each feather scatter blue light and absorb the other wavelengths. The even finer structure of the feather gathers the bouncing blue wavelengths together and directs them outward. That beautiful blue light leaves the feather of this Mountain Bluebird to dazzle the eye of the beholder -- a trick of the light.

Full Transcript

Transcript: 
BirdNote®
Why Are Bluebirds Blue?

Written by Dennis Paulson

This is BirdNote! [Mountain Bluebird song]

The cheery song of this Mountain Bluebird is a sure sign of spring. [Mountain Bluebird song]

Because of their glowing blue feathers, the three species of North American bluebirds – Eastern, Western, and Mountain – are among the continent’s most beautiful birds. But why are they blue? Well, a Native American myth has the dull, ugly bluebird bathing in a blue lake to acquire its colors. But the scientific explanation is no less wonderful. [Mountain Bluebird song]

Unlike many other bird colors, blue is not a pigment. It’s a color produced by the structure of the feathers. Tiny air pockets and melanin pigment crystals in each feather scatter blue light and absorb the other wavelengths. That beautiful blue light leaves the feather to dazzle the eye of the beholder. [Mountain Bluebird song]
And that color is not lost on a female bluebird. Male Eastern Bluebirds that are brighter blue and reflect more ultraviolet light have greater breeding success than their paler counterparts.

Children often ask why the sky is blue, and we can ask the same question about bluebirds. The answer is the same in both cases: it’s a trick of the light. [Mountain Bluebird song]

You can see photos of these birds – and all the birds we feature – on our website. Visit BirdNote.org. I’m Michael Stein.

###

Song of the Mountain Bluebird provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Recorded by D.S. Herr.BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and produced by John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org      March 2015     Narrator: Michael Stein


ID# 032907blueKPLU   feather-02b

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