Bluebirds of Happiness

Bluebirds have become associated with happiness partly because of Native American legends but mostly because of the song “Bluebird of Happiness” written in 1934. And you may be familiar with the line “Mr. Bluebird on my shoulder”, from “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah.”

There are three species of bluebirds in North America: the Western and Eastern, very similar birds, blue with rusty breasts and the Mountain Bluebird, totally bluish. We only find the Western and Mountain in the west. All are unmistakable blue birds. But let me extrapolate.

I’ve mentioned before that feather colors are produced both by pigment and structure. Blue color is produced by melanin pigment granules in the feather refracting and reflecting a blue color. If you find a blue feather from a bluebird, jay, or bunting, hold it up to the light. The transmitted, not reflected light, will demonstrate that the feather is actually brownish! Green birds have an overlay of yellow pigment on these brown feathers, producing a refracted green color.

Bluebirds are thrushes, related to the American Robin. They are omnivores, eating fruit, insects, and berries. They prefer open grassland with a few trees and nest in cavities as do woodpeckers. Due to competition from House Sparrows and Starlings and the disappearance of habitat, bluebird populations had drastically declined by the 1970s, but with encouragement by the North American Bluebird Society and other conservation groups, bluebird trails are being established and bluebird houses being built. (Wooden fence posts with woodpecker cavities were often used by bluebirds, but modern fiberglass fences prevent cavity construction, hence the need for bluebird houses.) If you want to build a house, go to the website for the North American Bluebird Society.

For a pretty good overview of the habits and habitats of bluebirds in general, see Wikipedia

Some particularly interesting facts about bluebirds:

Mountain Bluebird females build the nest; males may carry nesting material but drop it before they get to the nest. Lazy, maybe? But to spread the work even farther, the bluebird pair may have helpers at the nest – Tree Swallows. A couple of years ago at my place in Wyoming where I have placed many nest boxes for swallows and bluebirds, I noticed both Tree Swallows and Mountain Bluebirds coming and going out of the same nest box. After a bit of investigation I found that the swallows were helping to raise the bluebird young. It happens fairly often, I learned.

DNA studies have also shown that in many cases, half or more of the young in the nest of a Western Bluebird were not fathered by the male attending the nest. The female is clearly promiscuous.

Whatever their habits, bluebirds engender positive thoughts as the Bluebird Theater, Blue Bird Bus manufacturers, Bluebird Café, Bluebird Nightclub, and Bluebird Turf Equipment must have thought. Of course, there are at least a couple of bands called Bluebird. I still remember that younger girls in Campfire Girls were Bluebirds. Time marches on, though. It’s now Campfire Girls and Boys and the younger ones belong to Starflight. Somehow, not the same.

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