The color is startling: a pure cerulean blue that mirrors the vast dome of sky stretching over the sagebrush. A color so achingly intense, when the light illuminates it just right, that it renews my appreciation for the wild palette every time. That is the powerful attraction of the male Mountain Bluebird.
I photographed these bluebirds near a pair of nest boxes along a fence bordering Washington State wildlife lands on Whiskey Dick Mountain. This is hot, dry country in the sagebrush-steppe lands near the Columbia River,
where Big Sagebrush and Bitterbrush dominate the landscape. In spring, the earth between the shrubs is filled with wildflowers, and the cooler temperatures of the early season make hiking bearable. During my visit, the Mountain Bluebirds had paired off and were defending their nest box, but no eggs had yet hatched so the adults were not incubating or carrying food.
An interesting fact: the Mountain Bluebird has NO blue pigment in its feathers; the intense blue is created by the structure of the feathers themselves, which scatter light in the same way that the deep blue western sky scatters light. I find that the bluebird blue is most intense when the sun is at a low angle, directly behind my back. But these birds are breathtakingly beautiful anywhere, anytime.
For more information about Mountain Bluebirds, the Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology is a good place to start. Go to All About Birds.
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