No Blue Feathers

So last week my Ornithology professor had a lecture on bird feathers.  Ornithology is the study of birds.  He started explaining that there are no such thing as blue feathers.  Like that blue jay outside your window is technically a black jay. Yeah, shocking right?  The whole class was mind blown!  It was so shocking to find out that the feathers are not what they seem.  My whole life I thought that Blue Jays were truly blue which was their defining feature.  I couldn’t believe what he was saying!  The reason that a blue jay looks blue is because of the sun.  The sun reflects the melanin in the feathers to make them appear blue to the human eye.  There is no such thing as blue pigment in a blue feather, there is only structural blue.  The definition that my professor gave in class was, “structural blue is the physical alteration of the components of incident light on the feather surface, a result of tissue layering and angles characteristics of barb structure.”  Oh I forget to mention that there is also only one documented bird with a true green pigment in their feathers.  The only bird with truly green feathers are called Turacus.  A parakeet that has a yellow head and green body is not actually green.  So the parakeet is actually all yellow but the body of the parakeet has the structural blue in it that reacts with the yellow making the feathers look green.  The way my professor described it was like a rain drop.  A rain drop is normally clear but when it passes by a rainbow it takes on the color that it is near.  This is like the blue feathers with the sun making them look blue even when they aren’t.  You can test this theory by finding a blue jay’s feather on the ground and observe the color in the sunlight and then under the shade of a tree.  When it is not in the direct sunlight the feather will be faded and not a bright because the sun is not hitting it.

 

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