You could say I have been blue for almost 20 years!
When I purchased my home in the early 90’s, I did so in large part because of its great bird and wildlife viewing opportunities. My older suburban neighborhood is heavily wooded and features a small lake and numerous creeks. This great mix of habitats has brought me countless wildlife encounters, ranging from Bald Eagles to American Beavers and Spring Peepers to Flying Squirrels!
But my woodland setting has also denied me one of my favorite things in life – bluebirds.
At least, up until this winter!
Yes, the magic of planting a few native deciduous holly bushes (Ilex verticillata) combined with providing mealworms and Jim’s Birdacious® Bark Butter® Bits finally did the trick and brought them into my backyard!
The brilliant red berries of this “Winterberry Holly” seem to be irresistible to bluebirds and they certainly worked to initially attract them to my yard. But it only took a few days for the four bluebirds to pick the bushes clean. What kept them coming back day after day was their discovery of the mealworms and Bark Butter Bits that I had put out for them.
You can bet, as the drab and dreary days of late winter slowly passed, our lives were constantly brightened by these radiant bluebirds coming to the feeders just a few feet outside our family room window!
It would be hard to find anything as dazzling as a bluebird standing on a fence post in the early morning sun. Its brilliant blue plumage might even be said to rival the sky itself.
Too bad it’s just one big illusion!
It’s true! bluebirds aren’t really blue … they just look like they are!
Most bird colorations are due to pigments deposited in their feathers. A Northern Cardinal is red because of the red pigment called carotenoids. Crows are black because their feathers contain a dark pigment called melanin.
In contrast, bluebirds do not have a single molecule of blue pigment in any of their feathers. So where does that brilliant blue color come from?
The answer is that the color is not produced by a pigment, but by the structure of the feather. The top transparent layer of each bluebird feather is filled with miniscule pockets of air. When sunlight strikes these pockets, all of the other visible wavelengths of light are absorbed. Only blue escapes and is scattered in all directions.
So while the bluebird’s blue color may technically be an illusion…it is no longer an illusion to have them in my backyard and I am enjoying every single visit they make to my feeders!
After almost 20 years, their arrival has finally signaled the end to my case of the bluebird “blues!”
Now…if I can just get them to use the nest box down by the creek…