Ohio’s blue jay feathers aren’t really blue, here’s how it tricks your eyes

The feathers play tricks with the light

Ohio’s blue jay feathers aren’t really blue, here’s how it tricks your eyes
Blue jay feathers aren't actually blue. Like a prism, they are playing tricks with the light. (Source: Wikipedia)

CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) -Ohio has numerous brightly colored birds.

Ohio’s blue jay feathers aren’t really blue, here’s how it tricks your eyes

For most of those, the color is actually in the feather itself.

“If you see birds that are red, or orange or yellow those are pigment based in the feathers,” according to Harvey Webster, Chief Wildlife Officer for the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

There is one major exception, the blue jay.

The brilliant blue patterns on the tail and the blue in its chest is just light being used to fool your eye.

Think of the feather like a prism that refracts light.

“They call it a structural color,” Webster explained. “It just means there are melanophores that are in the feathers. The light comes in, bounces around, all the wavelengths are absorbed except for blue which is reflected out. So it actually not a blue pigment.”

The American Council on Science and Health further explains, “If you grind up the wing of a cardinal, the resulting powder will be red. If you do the same with a blue jay feather, the powder will be brown. You can see the same effect by simply turning around a blue feather.”

It’s all about the pockets within the feather that absorb all the colors of light, except for blue.

If you light a blue jay's feather from the back you can see there's no actual blue in the feather.
If you light a blue jay's feather from the back you can see there's no actual blue in the feather. (Source: American Council on Science and Health)

The good news is you can see the blue jay, and their tricky feathers even in the winter in Northeast Ohio.

“They are year round residents and they’re very common at your bird feeders. They love peanuts. Put peanuts and sunflower seeds out there and you’ll have friends for life,” Webster said.

Editor's note: This content is part of a partnership between Cleveland 19 News and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Find more videos like this on Cleveland 19’s Roku and Amazon Fire apps.

What’s crawling in your house? Prowling in your backyard? What am I seeing through my backyard telescope? Did I really just see a bald eagle during my drive home? Are coyotes dangerous? Experts from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History join us to set the record straight on Cleveland Natural – helping you better understand Northeast Ohio nature and providing tips on how to best share our region with our wild neighbors. Explore the wonders of science and nature at cmnh.org.

Copyright 2018 WOIO. All rights reserved.