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Pick 6: Are blue birds not really blue?

lazuli bunting

I think we would all agree that the following six birds are very pretty. What if I said they were not largely blue? Would you agree to that? Read the short text under the last image, then decide for yourself.

1. Blue Grosbeak, male

blue grosbeak

Widely distributed across the southern and central U.S., the Blue Grosbeak is nonetheless uncommon and little studied, so there is much that remains to be learned about its ecology and behavior. Blue Grosbeak nests are known to be heavily parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds, at least in some parts of its range.

2. Blue Jay
blue jay

Known for their beautiful plumage, these birds are common across most of North America. “The blue jay is a strong, healthy-looking bird, noisy and boisterous”

3. Eastern Bluebird
eastern bluebird

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?

4. Indigo Bunting, male
indigo bunting

With a broad distribution in eastern North America, the Indigo Bunting is a complete migrant, meaning that all members of the population move south in the winter. Migration takes place at night, though Indigo Buntings sometimes continue their flight after daylight arrives.

5. Lazuli Bunting
lazuli bunting

Lazuli Buntings migrate between Mexican wintering grounds and their breeding range across much of the western U.S., moving mostly at night.  Males arrive before females, and begin to set up breeding territories. Small flocks form after the breeding season, and these groups migrate south together.

6. Mountain Bluebird
Mountain Bluebird male

Like its relative the Eastern Bluebird, the Mountain Bluebird readily accepts nest boxes, and most of the studies of its breeding ecology are of birds using nest boxes. More cold tolerant than other bluebirds and found in more open habitats in winter, the Mountain Bluebird can at times be seen in large concentrations.

Bottom line

Most of the colors in a bird’s feathers are the result of various pigments. Colors such as orange, yellow and even black are pigment-based.

Blue colors have a different story. There are no blue pigments in bird feathers. The blue in the feathers of the above birds is created by the structure of the feathers. The structure refracts incoming light, creating the appearance of a blue color.

To prove this, scientists placed blue feathers and a solvent in a blender. The action from the blender destroyed the structure of the feathers – and the color blue in the process.

So, the color blue in birds is really just a pigment of your imagination.

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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