AS BLUE AS I CAN BE
Where would you go to see brightly colored birds? Somewhere in the tropics, right? Generally, yes—but here in Western Colorado we can claim some of the most beautiful blue birds in the Americas. Those who know Central and South America might be saying: “Wait a minute. What about turquoise cotingas and some of the honeycreepers?” Well, yes, they are beautiful and blue but just try to find one of those cotingas. I’ve been bird-watching in the tropics many times and I’ve only seen the usually-rare cotingas three times and only briefly. The honeycreepers are easier to find, but they are small and often bouncing around high in the forest canopy permitting only brief glimpses.
If you want to see beautiful blue birds, Western Colorado is a great location. If I remember correctly, it was the pioneer author Mary Austin who referred to mountain bluebirds as ’’flecks of fallen sky.” It is easy to be poetic about this common bird which can be seen almost all year on any drive to Grand Mesa, up Unaweep Canyon, even along interstate 70. Typically, we have a few around our valley all year. This is the male of a pair that nested in one of my birdhouses near Collbran this summer.
In our pinyon-juniper forests, especially where they transition to some oaks and aspen, the Western Bluebird is easy-to-see. It is a deeper blue than its cousin, the mountain bluebird, and sports chestnut-colored shoulders.
A smaller, strikingly-colored bird that is mostly blue is the lazuli bunting which might even visit your backyard bird feeder. Here is a photo of the beautiful male. These are also fairly easy to see in the oak/pinyon/juniper complex. Females of all three of these species are less brightly colored—especially the bunting—so for your fix of “blue,” you need to see the male.
Other blue birds that live and breed locally, and topic for a future blog, are three of our jays. And, in case you missed it, check out Jackson Trappett’s excellent photo of a blue grosbeak in a previous entry (http://www.gjsentinel.com/blogs/birds_and_more/entry/floatin-down-the-old-green-river).
Being blue has interested scientists for some time because red and orange pigments in feathers come from diet, but blue pigments that are eaten are destroyed with digestion. It turns out that blue is a structural color (as opposed to a pigmented color) because it’s generated by light interacting with a feather’s 3-dimensional arrangement. Different shapes and sizes of these arrangements create different shades of blue. You can read all the details here: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Why-Are-Some-Feathers-Blue.html#ixzz2Z8BN2buc . This post provided by Nic Korte, Grand Valley Audubon Society. Western Bluebird and Lazuli Bunting photos by Jackson Trappett. Send questions/comments to firstname.lastname@example.org]To learn more and to participate in the activities of Grand Valley Audubon, please see our website at audubongv.org and “like” us on Facebook!]