Photo: Is this bluebird really blue?

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Our reader photo of the day inspires a look at the mystery of feathers.

This bird isn't really blue, at least not in the way a cardinal is red or a flamingo is pink. Most birds attain their color through pigment in the things they eat, but blue pigments consumed by birds are destroyed during digestion, so what's the secret?

The blue of a bluebird delights us thanks to structural color – the color is generated by light interacting with a feather’s 3-D arrangement rather than by actual blue pigment. So although the feathers look blue, if we were to destroy the intricate structure, the blue would fly the coop, so to speak. And even though the bluebird's blue may not be true blue, it's all the more beautiful for the magic that makes it appear so.

Thanks to photographer Tony LePrieur for inspiring this random lesson!

Would you like to see your nature photo featured as the TreeHugger photo of the day? Join TreeHugger’s Reader Photo Pool on flickr and add your pictures to the group.

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