“They” say…

Indigo Bunting - photographed in May“They” say that there are no blue feathers.  That is, there are no feathers that contain blue pigment.  When our brains tell us that we have seen a blue bird, it is the result of physics and a trick of the light…  reflection?  refraction?  I dunno… very complicated.

Whatever the science, it is always thrilling to see an Indigo Bunting!  My Sibley’s field guide tells me that Indigo Buntings are “common in any open brushy area, including weedy fields and hedge-rows, with trees nearby.”  The Cornell All-About-Birds website further explains that the Indigo Bunting is “a bird of old fields and roadsides” and that it “prefers abandoned land to urban areas, intensely farmed areas, or deep forests.”

Both descriptions fit the CLDC bird banding site quite well and we saw what must be a family of buntings on Saturday.

Indigo Buntings

I love how the Cornell website lists “Cool Facts” for each species.  Here are the two that intrigued me the most about Indigo Buntings:

  1. The Indigo Bunting migrates at night, using the stars for guidance. It learns its orientation to the night sky from its experience as a young bird observing the stars.
  2. Experienced adult Indigo Buntings can return to their previous breeding sites when held captive during the winter and released far from their normal wintering area.

Learn more:


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7 thoughts on ““They” say…

  1. Yes, I always heard that. When we were (much) younger, we used to go to a bird banding station (in PA) where the ornithologist (Paul Fluck) would say “There’s no blue in a blue jay” and then go on to say if you took its feathers and ground them all up and looked at them in a dark room, they would not be blue (that’s how I remember it, although I don’t know what the grinding would do for it).

    I’m with you on the outstanding beauty of the Indigo Bunting. My mother had a pair nesting near her house this spring. Quite lovely!

  2. The whole ‘blue’ thing always intrigued me. It’s funny that blue and black are both colors that aren’t created in pigments but which SEEM to be out there. (Black doesn’t exist in nature – just very dark brown or blue).

  3. Birds are blue for the same reason the sky is — refraction of light. From a web site I found: “The Blue Jay’s coloration is not derived by pigments, but is the result of light refraction due to the internal structure of the feathers; if a Blue Jay feather is crushed, the blue disappears as the structure is destroyed.”

    End of story— unless you Google “Blue refraction birds” for many references to the “blue” story. While the color of the blue bunting may not be real (i.e. origin pigments) the delightful song is.

  4. Perhaps it is a good thing birds are not actually blue…otherwise some idiot long ago might have figured out how to mass produce bunting blue ink or dye…and then jay blue ink or dye when the buntings were extinct…and we would not be able to enjoy their beauty today.

  5. I just spent ten minutes observing a male indigo bunting from my new family room. Then I went to get some water for the chickens, and when I walked by my little overgrown wildflower garden, there it was again! Whether blue is a light refraction trick or not, they sure are pretty!

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