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Otters Oddities

Illustration for article titled Otters Oddities

Vera! Vera! What has become of you? Does anybody else here, feel the way I do?

Generally, the opening line of my posts tries to combine the picture with the days subject. Sometimes I do a good job, sometimes it's just a lame-ass joke.


I have to say, I'm proud of todays.

And because I'm so proud of it, I'm going to explain it to you.

The opening words are from the song 'Vera', by Pink Floyd, from 'The Wall'. The song is a reference to the British singer Vera Lynn. The picture is of the White Cliffs of Dover. One of the songs Vera Lynn sang started with the words, "There'll be bluebirds over, the White Cliffs of Dover, Tomorrow, Just you wait and see."


And that brings me to the subject of todays post: The Bluebird.

Ok. You have to admit, that was a pretty clever tie in to go from a picture that has nothing to do with my declared subject, to the actual subject.


So, bluebirds, huh? If you live in America, chances are you've seen one. They live all over the country. They are also one of the few birds you know the name of. Because, well...they're blue birds.

Although, I can envision an Abbot and Costello type exchange between two people about a bluebird.

A) What's kind of bird is that?

B) Which bird?

A) That one. The blue bird.

B) Bluebird.

A) Yeah, that one. What kind is it?

B) Bluebird.

A) Yes. I'm asking you what kind of bird that blue bird is!

B) Bluebird!

A) YES! It's a very pretty blue bird! I can see that! But I want to know what kind of bird it is!

B) It's a Bluebird!

A) I know it's blue! I'm not blind! But what kind of bird is it?

You get the idea.

Sorta makes you think it wasn't a scientist that named it. Although, I have been known to mess with younger relatives when teaching them about birds.

Young Relative) Uncle Otter, what kind of bird is that?

Otter) That's a Bluebird. And over there is a Brownbird. And there's a very rare Balckandwhitebird.


Sure...seems about right for me. But I only do that when there's an actual Bluebird I can use. (Goldfinches work too. 'There's a goldfinch. And a brownfinch. And a very rare Brownandwhitefinch!') think I'm only an idiot when posting here? Grow up. I'm always an idiot.


Anyway...bluebirds. Did you know that bluebirds are drop-hunters? They perch in a tree, or on a post, and scan for bugs. They can spot an insect or caterpillar from 50 feet away. They then dive down on the food, nabbing it in their beak.

Mountain bluebirds don't have an over abundance of perches to hunt from, and as a result, they are one of the few birds that can actually hover for extended periods of time.


Neat, huh? Well, here's the truly odd fact about bluebirds:

They aren't blue.

Seriously. They aren't! It all has to do with color, and how we see it.

Most of the time, when we see something as a certain color, it's because there's a pigment in that item that causes that color to reflect back at our eyes. Pigments are what allow us to alter the color of things we interact with.


You can see this yourself at the hardware store when you buy a gallon of paint. When you choose your color, they take a can of white paint and add pigments to it to make it whatever color you want.

Bluebirds, however, don't have any pigment in their feathers.

So, why do we see them as blue? Well....because science, obviously.

Pigment is only one of the things ways we perceive color. Another is by wavelength.


Light and color is something that a lot of people find confusing. For example, white isn't actually a color. White is all colors mixed together. Black is not a color either. It's an absence of light.

Anyone who was ever lucky enough to have that 64 pack of crayons finds that hard to believe. I, like almost everyone else who had them, at one point used every single crayon in the pack and combined them, and the result sure wasn't white. So, liar liar pants on fire...


No. It has to do with light being a wave, and how those waves are absorbed. Using the crayons is what's known as the subtractive method of color. You add pigments together to make a color. Just like the paint at the hardware store. The printer you use at home or work is a good example of that. It uses the colors cyan, magenta, yellow and black, (CMYK), and mixes them together to create every color. Mix them all and you get black.

But that's not how light makes color. Light, including electronics like your TV or computer use the additive method. It takes three colors, red, green and blue, (RGB), and it adds them in different intensities to create the color we see. Mix them all together and you get white.


The light we see works on the additive method. The white light you have is actually all the colors of the spectrum combined. Each color has a slightly different wavelength. You can use a prism to separate the colors into their individual waves. That's how rainbows are made. You are actually looking at light that is passing through water which is acting like a prism to separate the waves of color.

So, what does this have to do with bluebirds?

Simple. The barbs on the tips of a bluebirds feathers are coated in a substance that absorbs all the wavelengths of light, except blue. It reflects that wave back away, and we then pick that light up causing the bird to appear blue.


But it's really not.

All right, it's time for me to fess up. When I sat down to do this post, bluebirds aren't what I was going to post about. I was going to do a post on the White Cliffs of Dover. (not going to tell you what, though, because I can still use that idea.....maybe Friday...)


But while looking for the song lyrics to White Cliffs of Dover, I discovered it was sung by Vera Lynn, who featured in that Pink Floyd song. So I used it. Then I said....hmm, bluebirds...

Did a bit of quick research and found the lack of pigment fact, and decided to roll with it.


Why tell you this? Well, I guess it's so you all know that, while I may have ideas for posts, I can change them on a whim if I feel like it. It's not that the original subject was any less interesting than the bluebird thing. Because it's not. But you have to admit...that was a pretty fantastic segway from my opening to the subject.....

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