Do Ugly Ducklings Wear Blue?


Everyone remembers the famous Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale of the ugly “duckling” which grew up as the object of ridicule for its ungainly appearance, yet it eventually metamorphosed into a beautiful swan. I think about this story whenever I look into our bluebird boxes at the babies. At first the youngest babies are so ugly that they are cute. Eventually the babies grow into young thrushes which are handsome, but which do not yet reveal the true extent of the marvel that is the male bluebird. The incredible blue color of the back against the reddish breast is incomparable and evokes my astonishment, no matter how many times I see this wonder. It seems most likely that the females are responsible for this unusual blue color by selecting mates over the eons with the brightest blue.

Breeding all the way from Florida to Canada, bluebirds usually depend on human modification of the original forest habitat, and provision of nest boxes, so that they can forage in open spaces and yards. This seals the bond with people and bluebirds seem to be happiest around human habitation. Few other birds have provoked such sympathy that a society was created just for their protection. Check out the NABS website and consider how you might contribute to the preservation of this remarkable creature which provides so much pleasure to us. The easier way to start is by putting up some nest boxes, but be sure and provide protection against predators. The nest box that I have found satisfactory is shown with a stove pipe baffle underneath the box to discourage predatory snakes and mammals.

Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL & Galax, VA

Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

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