Those of you who go outside like actual birders and/or adults may not be aware of the latest craze to sweep the internet. No, not the llamas. Or the trailer for the new Frozen short. Or even the welcome news the Obama has vetoed the Keystone pipeline.

No, it’s about a blue dress. Or a white dress. With decorations that are either gold or black. Now I’m going to be frank, when I first saw the dress I was pretty convinced that it was obviously white and gold and anyone who claimed otherwise was trolling me. But now I am assured otherwise.

What does this have to do with birding, besides revealing that I wasn’t yesterday? Well, it turns out that the science behind this little meme is very relevant to the harder-working birder: it has to to with how our eyes and brain automatically compensate for differing levels of sunlight and shadow. Not very important when we’re talking dresses, unless you need to give a description to the police or the vengeful ghost of Joan Rivers. But pretty key when you’re trying to sort out warblers in a dappled fall forest or shorebirds on a sun-bleached sandbar. And also when you’re trying to figure out why someone else on your list serv or Facebook group is being so infuriatingly wrong, wrong, wrong about a very clear photo.

So here’s a quick breakdown of what’s going on with the mystery dress: and potentially with any number of frustrating mystery and misnamed birds throughout the years.

It still looks white and gold to me, which doesn’t bode well….

Palm Warbler illustration

Obviously, these are Cerulean Warblers.

Written by Carrie
Carrie Laben, after years of writing and birding in New York, moved to Montana to pursue her two great passions more effectively. She recently graduated with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Montana in Missoula. When she is not cranking out essays and speculative fiction stories, or wandering around on mountains failing to see the birds she is looking for, she is likely to be drinking one of the many fine local microbrews or attending a potluck with something from the local farmer’s market in hand. On Mondays from 3 to 3:30 Mountain Time you can find her answering questions about birds on live chat at