Canadian Wildlife - - UNDERSTORY -

Am I Blue?

Con­sid­er­ing peo­ple’s af­fec­tion for the strik­ing colour of blue­birds, it’s ironic to dis­cover that the blue we see is an il­lu­sion. There is no such thing as a true blue bird. The blue colour is cre­ated by the way light waves in­ter­act with tiny pock­ets of air and pro­tein mol­e­cules in the bird’s feath­ers. In other words, the blue is a struc­tural colour, rather than one pro­duced by pig­ments such as or­ange, yel­low and red. If you grind up a blue­bird feather, it turns a dull brown. —K.B.

Not All Blue­birds Are Alike

Blue­birds of one re­gion are some­times con­fused with other blue­birds, but they can be dis­tin­guished with­out dif­fi­culty. The western blue­bird has a blue (male) or gray (fe­male) throat and or­ange breast, the eastern blue­bird has an or­ange throat, and the moun­tain blue­bird lacks or­ange colour any­where on its body. —K.E.

Slip­pery Slope to Sum­mer?

Skiers and snow­board­ers re­fer to a “blue­bird” day, a clear and sunny day af­ter a snow­fall, per­fect for hit­ting the slopes, though with a hint of melan­choly as it may be seen as a har­bin­ger of near­ing spring. —K.E.

Spirit in the Sky

The Co­chiti peo­ple in the Amer­i­can south­west be­lieve the first­born son of the Sun was named Blue­bird; nearby Navajo saw the moun­tain blue­bird as a spirit of the ris­ing sun in an­i­mal form.

Fur­ther north, Iro­quois myths tell of the blue­bird driv­ing off the gods of win­ter, while Chero­kee leg­ends hold that blue­birds con­trol the weather, par­tic­u­larly the wind. The Ojibwe tell a tale of how blue­birds helped make the first rain­bow, when the Earth was new and there was no colour.

Moun­tain blue­bird

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