Monday, July 16, 2012

Are Bluebirds Blue?

Are bluebirds blue?  This sounds like one of those trick questions on a test in school, doesn't it?  The answer, strictly speaking, is no, the color blue in a bird is a structural color.  Light is scattered and reflected by tiny structures in the feathers of these birds which results in one single color...blue! In North America, this applies to the Eastern Bluebird, the Blue-Jay, and the Indigo Bunting.  We once watched a TV show that said if you took a bluebird feather and pounded it into a powder, then the powder would be a light gray in color.  If you see a bluebird on a wire, it may look gray or brownish, but then when it flies away and the sun hits it just right, you will be rewarded by the most brilliant of blues and it truly is a breathtaking sight...


Arthur Cleveland Bent, one of America's greatest ornithologists, wrote the following:


"The bluebird is well named, for he wears a coat of the purest, richest, and most gorgeous blue on back, wings, and tail; no North American bird better deserves the name, for no other flashes before our admiring eyes so much brilliant blue. It has been said that he carries on his back the blue of heaven and the rich brown of the freshly turned earth on his breast; but who has ever seen the bluest sky as blue as the bluebird's back?"
 

This photo is a juvenile bluebird and was taken on June 29 in my backyard and it was over 100 degrees.  Can you tell how widely the bird's beak is open?  I was most concerned for these birds, there were three of them in all and they all had their beaks open like this and I have never seen birds do this before.  I called my husband at work and he said that he had read that this is a way for the birds to cool themselves and to make sure that I had some fresh water for them.  (And you know that I did!) 









There, do you see what I mean about the beaks being wide open?  That is a tufted titmouse in the top photo and one of the bluebirds in the bottom photo.  No more photos after this, I said, "Have at it, my little bird friends, bathe and drink in that cool water, it is all yours and I will not disturb you."  And with that, I closed my blinds and left them in peace.

The quote that I gave to you above from Arthur Cleveland Bent?  You should look him up and read about him, he was really a businessman who took a lifelong interest in birds and studied them and became quite an expert in ornithology.  He wrote 21 volumes of the Life Histories of North American Birds...yes, that is correct, 21 volumes.  That is a lot of observation and study, but I'll just bet that all of his business dealings didn't amount to all the joy that he got from his birds.

Birds are free!  Observe them and enjoy them!

28 comments:

  1. I love birds! Saw the usual today: turkeys, gold finches, house finches, black birds, doves, quail, sparrows, killdeer.

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    1. Thanks for your comment! I remember you writing about the kildeer. I love birds too, so very much.
      I wonder, do you ever see the bluebird where you are, I think that yours is the Western bluebird?

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  2. So, so beautiful; indeed, "fearfully and wonderfully made"! And it is wonderful when we humans do something kind and thoughtful for our fellow earthlings, and say "I will not disturb you". Am very glad to have discovered your blog, and am following you now :)

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment! And thank you for being a new follower! You are very welcome here and I appreciate you very much!
      Kay

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  3. Lovely to have such pretty visitors to your back yard, Kay! And you are a very good host to them. I hope they remember about the drink and the bath and tell all their friends - and I am sure they didn't mind having their pictures taken in exchange for some refreshment :-)

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    1. Ha! Dear Meike, I believe that they have told all their friends!! You would not believe how busy they are around that water this summer. They looked very stressed on this day that I took the photos, I could tell, so I only took those two very close up, the others were out in the yard with the magnified lens.
      And they are so lovely!

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  4. I think that is a lovely description of the bluebird by Arthur Cleveland Bent. Your answer to the question, are they actually blue, is one of those that messes with my head, like the knowledge that the sky isn't blue either, lol. Interesting to know the significance of them being open-mouthed.

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    1. Dear Tracey,
      I can understand the science behind the scattered light but as long as I can see that beautiful blue sky and the bluebird feathers, I am not bothered by how it comes to be, just thankful that I can see it!

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  5. They are beautiful photos of the bluebirds. Thanks for sharing them! My new blog is at this link http://seasonsfullcircle.blogspot.co.nz/

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    1. Hey Paul!
      Good luck with your teaching this year. And yes, I saw your new blog, I was your first follower! Take care!

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  6. Such pretty little birds. I am always amazed at the huge variety and colours in the bird population. My dog does that open mouth thing when he's too hot!

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    1. I knew that dogs did this to cool down but in all my years of bird watching I have never seen birds do it. Of course, I have never seen heat like this summer either!
      Still waiting on a post from you about Tom Cruise and his divorce!

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  7. I love Mr. Bent's description of the bluebird---how wonderful to hear a bird scientist wax poetic! Sometimes ornithologists' descriptions can be so clinical, and you wonder just how much they feel the pure MAGIC of birds.

    Your little bluebird fledglings are so adorable, Kay. I know they were grateful for the cold, fresh water you provided.

    A very interesting post...thank you!

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    1. When he said that the bluebird carries the blue of heaven on his back, I think he was referring to a quotation from Thoreau and I agree, I love what he wrote, makes me want to get all 21 volumes of his books!
      And I am thankful for your comment!

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  8. Your bird pictures are utterly charming. I have a bird table and spend hours watching the antics of the birds. They have all been very quarrelsome this year. I wonder why?
    You asked the age of the Lewisian Gneiss - according to the experts 3 BILLION years old. I cannot get my head around that figure! I just know that some of it is a very pretty pink, some is banded from being under intense pressure and high temperatures and that it glitters in the sunlight - especially after a shower of rain and being the Hebrides, it usually rains often so it glitters most all the time! I collect the pretty ones that are in small slices and use them as coasters for my t-lights in the winter.

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    1. Wow, three billion years old...that's amazing.
      I would love to see that gneiss on the Isle of Lewis and compare the color of the gneiss here, makes you see why America was called the New World, doesn't it?
      I love the sound of that glittering stone under your tealights.
      Our birds have been very busy this summer at our water, they have spread the news and we think we are famous in the bird kingdom of Georgia!

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  9. Birds are fun to watch; we have a woodpecker who has learned that if he taps at the street light, the bugs run out from between the glass and the metal plate, and he can feast! They adapt so well.

    Many animals that cannot sweat will open mouth pant to cool off when they are overheated. It's wonderful that you provide clear, clean water for the feathered friends in your yard.

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    1. Birds really are smart. Do you remember when people would say birdbrain like an insult? They really didn't know them well, did they?
      Next time, I am concerned about my birds, I will just do a quick post on it, and I won't have to call Richard at work!
      Thanks, I know you are very knowledgeable about animals.

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  10. Kay, as always you are a wealth of knowledge. I really enjoyed this post immensely! Wonderful shots - especially the little cutie taking a bath :)

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    1. Dear Jane,
      I am so pleased that you enjoyed my class today. But are you still chewing that gum?!

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    2. Haha - I am in fact...!!

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    3. Would you believe that the post where I mentioned you chewing the gum, The National Parks post, is my number one visited post? You and your gum-chewing might become famous! :-)

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  11. I knew that chickens held their mouths open when thirsty and hot, but I never realized birds did also. And I sure didn't know that the color was a result of light reflection, thats interesting to me. Your photos are beautiful, as always!
    All that light wave and/or particle messes with my head, also!! :)
    Have a great week, Kay.
    Dorothy and Wilma

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    1. Dear Dorothy,
      That scattered light is also why our sky is blue! (See the comment and answer to Tracey above).
      I love blue skies and bluebirds and I don't care about the science really, I just love color and that's all there is to it!
      Hope you have a lovely week, give dear Wilma a pat for me.

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  12. Very lovely post, Kay. I really enjoyed it. You know how I just love animals, especially birds. I've never seen a bluebird! Why, oh, why don't they visit me? I would love to take photos of them. Those juveniles are absolutely adorable. It's been really hot and dry here, and yesterday was just horrible. The birds visiting my backyard were also walking around with their beaks open trying desperately to find a way to cool off. I made sure the bird baths were full and that there was fresh water around the yard.

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    1. Wow, what is happening to the weather? Is it normally that hot for you in Canada? I see on the weather map that as things go, we are quite lucky in Georgia for the moment, we have had some rain to cool it down a bit. It is only in the low 90's this week.
      And I hope you will get to see a bluebird! You will never forget the sight of one, I promise.

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  13. I remember seeing bluebirds for the first time last year at Yellowstone and being shocked at how very blue they were...all over. Incredibly beautiful birds. I was surprised when my mother called them Shiawase no tori. Bluebirds of Happiness! They call them that in Japan also!

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  14. Dear Kay,
    I love that you got to see bluebirds and I can't thank you enough for telling me that they are also called the bluebirds of happiness in Japanese too, thank you so much for sharing this with me. Please let you Mom know how much I like hearing about her from your blog!
    Take care.

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