Why Are Bluebirds Blue?

Why Are Bluebirds Blue?

By Environmental Management System

March, 2014

Bluebird box
A bluebird box for Dick Sloane was placed on the NIEHS campus in January 2014. The bluebird box sits just off the path that circles Discovery Lake.
Photo courtesy of Claire Long

Did you know that NIEHS has a long history of bluebirds on campus? Grant Nichols, a laboratory employee and avid Durham birder/photographer, started putting up bluebird nest boxes up on the NIEHS campus in 1972. There are now 27 nesting boxes on campus and around Discovery Lake, plus additional boxes on the EPA side of campus.

These bluebird boxes are part of what has made NIEHS a Wildlife and Industry Together (WAIT) certified site since 2005. The WAIT program recognizes businesses that agree to designate a portion of their property into wildlife habitat and demonstrate an employee commitment to wildlife educational opportunities.

March and April are typically when bluebirds select their nest location and begin to build their nests, with up to three nesting and hatching cycles later in the year. These bluebird boxes need cleaning once a year to keep them safe nesting spaces. If you are interested in volunteering to periodically clean out boxes, make any necessary repairs, place new boxes, or document the process, please contact Paul Johnson, Bill Steinmetz, or Bill Willis.

Bluebirds are not actually blue, they just appear to be. Unlike feathers on other birds, the feathers on a bluebird are not colored by pigment. The bluebird’s feathers appear blue to the eye due to the way the structures in their feathers reflect specific part of the light spectrum. For the full answer on why bluebirds appear blue, check out this article from the Smithsonian .


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