I pulled a few of my Western Bluebird pics from the archives to illustrate the following excerpt. This month’s Smithsonian Magazine has a short piece entitled Why So Blue? by Helen Fields, which explores the natural magic behind bluebird blue:
[Ornithologist Richard Prum] discovered that as a blue feather grows, something amazing happens. Inside each cell, stringy keratin molecules separate from water, like oil from vinegar. When the cell dies, the water dries away and is replaced by air, leaving a structure of keratin protein interspersed with air pockets, like a sponge or a box of spaghetti. When white light strikes a blue feather, the keratin pattern causes red and yellow wavelengths to cancel each other out, while blue wavelengths of light reinforce and amplify one another and reflect back to the beholder’s eye. The result: blue, an example of what scientists call a structural color (as opposed to a pigmented color) because it’s generated by light interacting with a feather’s 3-D arrangement. And different shapes and sizes of these air pockets and keratin make different shades of blue.
Why So Blue? by Helen Fields
The article goes on to speculate why the color blue is so prevalent in bird plumage, and how that blue might be perceived — aesthetically or otherwise — by other birds.
I haven’t seen any bluebirds since I moved to Washington, so, these shots were all taken in Northern California before our relocation to the Northwest. In the first image below, I wasn’t expecting the stage entrance of the flying bluebird, and had my shutter speed adjusted for the perching bird. Lesson almost learned: I came close to making the same mistake during my last such incident with perched pigeons. (I can’t shoot at too high an ISO with my camera, and my 70-300mm lens needs a lot of light, so I’m always trying to keep the ‘film speed’ as low as possible, and lowering shutter speed if I think I can get away with it.)