A Lazuli Bunting is one of the province’s most colourful birds.

The bright colours of nature

Beginning this week, Peace Arch News will publish the first of two monthly environmental columns, alternating between Roy Strang (who previously contributed Enviro Notes on a weekly basis until last year) and Anne Murray, whose By the Bay column appears in the Surrey Leader and South Delta Leader newspapers.

For the second year in a row, Lazuli Buntings are singing in an overgrown prairie patch north of Boundary Bay, one of only two locations in the Lower Mainland.

This small songbird has brilliant blue plumage, recalling the semi-precious gemstone, lapis lazuli.

As it tilts back its head to sing, the turquoise blue of its head and back is accentuated by a red-orange chest and white belly.

Blue is an unusual colour in the animal kingdom, especially in the north, where muted shades of brown or grey, blending with the landscape, are far more common. Blue plumage is not a result of pigmentation but a consequence of light refraction through microscopic bubbles in the feathers’ structure.

This is the reason the Steller’s jay (the common blue jay of the west, and B.C.’s provincial bird) will often appear very dark or even black, until, in turning, its back and tail suddenly flash with rich blue tones.

Many species of birds and insects have such structural modifications that create dramatic iridescence. Butterfly wings have crystal nanostructures (think unbelievably small) that selectively scatter light, revealing breathtaking colours.

The glittering throats, or gorgets, of male hummingbirds are caused by a combination of refraction and pigmentation, as is the green plumage of many tropical birds.

Carotenoids are natural pigments that reflect specific wavelengths of light, and result in red and orange colours, like those suffusing the plumage of house finches and orioles. As male house finches mature, their red colour intensifies.

Black or brown colours in animals are due to the pigment melanin, which is also found in humans. It is synthesized within the body, unlike carotenoid which animals cannot produce. Birds with red or orange plumage must therefore obtain their pigment from consuming parts of plants, such as seeds and berries.

Even experienced naturalists can be deceived by the colour of a bird’s plumage, if viewing conditions are difficult.

The speculum on a mallard’s wing can look green or blue, depending on the angle, while even brilliant plumage can look dark when seen against the light.

Keep your eyes open for those bright plumaged songbirds, including the elusive Lazuli Bunting visiting the delta this summer.

Anne Murray is the author of two books on nature and the natural history of the Lower Mainland: A Nature Guide to Boundary Bay and Tracing Our Past ~ A Heritage Guide to Boundary Bay, both available at local bookstores; see www.natureguidesbc.com

 

 

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Two-vehicle crash leads to argument in South Surrey

Police investigating after one driver left the scene

Fire truck, police car hit in chain of crashes on Hwy. 99 in South Surrey

‘People weren’t paying attention,’ says Surrey assistant fire chief

Greedy family’s maid overcomes them all in Surrey Little Theatre’s latest play

‘The Late Christopher Bean’ is staged at Clayton-area theatre for a month starting Jan. 23

Final Four set at Surrey RCMP Classic, where a new champ will be crowned

Guildford Park beats Semiahmoo, ending Totems’ three-year championship run

City of Surrey spends $1.2M on winter maintenance – so far

Total budget of $3.7M; 7,000 tonnes of salt used

Kids across Canada more at risk of hospitalization from flu this season: doctor

Dr. Theresa Tam said influenza B does not usually peak until February or later

Closed mills, housing surge support a positive forecast for lumber industries

B.C. lumber producers have closed mills accounting for 18% of province’s capacity, RBC report says

Good Samaritan pays part of rent for B.C. woman facing eviction in can-collecting dispute

Zora Hlevnjak, 76, supplements her pension by collecting cans and receiving public donations

Should winter tires be mandatory in the Lower Mainland?

ICBC dial-a-claims go up as winter storm takes toll

Canada Post driver in hospital after ice smashes windshield at Massey Tunnel

Incident happened on Richmond side of the Massey Tunnel

Abbotsford bank ATM robbery thwarted by woman standing her ground

Police arrest alleged known robber running down South Fraser wearing balaclava

Kelowna’s ‘Baby Mary’ finds biological parents after more than 30 years

Geneologist and DNA test helped her connect with her biological parents

Kelowna hotel to award couples for baby-making with Nooner deal

The deal includes a free stay every Valentine’s Day for the next 18 years

Dad of missing Abbotsford woman charged after allegedly exposing himself in park

Barry Shpeley charged with sexual assault and assault

Most Read

l -->