Be Your Own Birder

The Rainbow Jay – Photoshopped!

Rainbows are beautiful creations, whether you see one in the sky after a storm, catch the sheen on the surface of a soap bubble, break light through a prism, or just enjoy bright swirls of color on tie-died shirts. Rainbows are often found in all types of artwork, light shows, creative cakes, cards and stationery, children’s toys, jewelry, and much more. But on birds?

Rainbow After the Storm - Photo by steve p2008
Rainbow After the Storm – Photo by steve p2008

A Rainbow of Birds

It’s true that birds come in every color of the rainbow, from the magnificently red scarlet macaw (Ara macao) to the richly purple violet-backed starling (Cinnyricinclus leucogaster) and every shade of the spectrum in between. But can a rainbow be found on all one bird?

Some birds naturally have a rainbow of colors in their plumage, such as the painted bunting (Passerina ciris), the lilac-breasted roller (Coracias caudatus), or a variety of colorful parrots. On some birds, iridescent patches of plumage can also create a rainbow-like effect in certain lighting, such as on the wings of the common bronzewing (Phaps chalcoptera). But if you happen to see a photo of a bird with a bright, unmistakable rainbow in its plumage, you’re most likely looking at a photoshopped bird.

Lilac-Breasted Roller - Photo by Brian Ralphs
Lilac-Breasted Roller – Photo by Brian Ralphs

The Rainbow Jay

One classic photoshopped rainbow bird is the “rainbow jay” – a perfectly poised corvid with a bold gradient of color flowing from reddish-pink on its crown through the entire rainbow spectrum to purplish-violet at the tip of its tail. This is interspersed with white feather tips and black barring on the wings and tail for even more visual drama. What an amazing creation, right?

Rainbow Blue Jay - Photoshopped!

Wrong – that’s photoshopped!

The Original Bird

The real bird is a blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata), a common corvid found throughout North America, from central and southern Canada throughout the central and eastern United States, as far south as Texas, the Gulf Coast, and Florida. The photo appropriated for the photoshopping was originally taken by Richard Seguin, and when the two photos – the photoshopped and the original – are compared side-by-side, there’s no mistaking the obviousness of the manipulation.

Rainbow Blue Jay and Original Photo
Rainbow Jay and Original Photo

Not only is the bird’s posture, orientation, and pose the same, but we can also see identical details in each photo – the knot on the tree branch near the bird’s back, the spark in the bird’s eye, the rictal bristles surrounding its bill, the orientation of each and every feather. Not all photoshops are so obvious – many photo manipulators may reverse or mirror the original photo, or otherwise attempt to make their editing at least somewhat more distinct than only an obvious color change.

How Could Anyone Be Fooled?

To any birder familiar with North American species, there’s no fooling with this photoshop – it’s far too obvious. Yet this rainbow jay continues to fly around the internet and appear in pins, likes, posts, and shares as a stunning creation of nature. Why is anyone fooled so easily?

First, we’re all familiar with rainbows, and see them often – even in nature with water rainbows, flowers, or iridescence on other birds. So why wouldn’t this be a natural bird as well? In many parts of the world, boldly colored birds flaunting shades of pink, purple, and other colors are perfectly normal, such as the cheery pink robin (Petroica rodinogaster) of Australia and Tasmania or the vibrant teal-blue of the spangled cotinga (Cotinga cayana) of South America.

Pink Robin - Photo by Francesco Veronesi / Spangled Cotinga - Photo by Mathias Appel
Pink Robin – Photo by Francesco Veronesi / Spangled Cotinga – Photo by Mathias Appel

If you’d never heard of these birds, you might immediately suspect them of color manipulation – their colors seem so unusual and so bright as to be unnatural. Yet both these birds are perfectly normal, without any plumage abnormalities or strong photo editing. If those are the colors you are used to in your birding, and you see a rainbow jay, you might at first believe the bird’s spectacular plumage to be its own natural coloration.

Furthermore, non-birders who may not be familiar with the colors and patterns of even common birds’ plumage might be fooled by a photoshopped bird. The rainbow jay – while brilliantly colored – isn’t so silly of an edit that its manipulation is obvious. The bird isn’t sporting a curved rainbow across its wings, nor are there other unbelievable markings, feather features, or obvious edits. Only the color has been adjusted, and yet the white and black markings of the bird have been left alone to give it a better sense of realism. Even the branch and background are relatively untouched, lending a natural sense of scene to the photo, despite its color changes.

Still, you won’t be fooled any longer! The rainbow jay is a beautiful piece of photo editing, but you won’t find a jay with these markings in any color other than blue. And that’s beautiful enough!

Blue Jay - Photo by David Seibel
Blue Jay – Photo by David Seibel

Check out our complete blue jay photo gallery to see just
how lovely these birds really are!

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