It was a cold February day in 1979. Michael L. Smith set up a tripod in his back yard and pointed a camera toward a fence post. Then, he waited.
Photographing birds was his passion. If he could get one good shot out of 100 he would be happy.
On this day, he was trying to take a picture of a bluebird.
He waited some more.
Then, came his chance. A male eastern bluebird flew into his backyard and actually landed on the fence post.
The bird hunkered down, fluffed its wings, then stared right into the camera with its black beady eyes.
All Michael Smith could see as he sat in his house sixty feet away was a bluebird on the fence post. Watching from behind the glass door, he pressed the remote camera trigger.
Click. He had just changed his life.
The bird flew away having no idea about what had just happened. The bird flew away never to return.
Twenty years later, Michael Smith owes his fortune to that bird. The bird gave him the many comforts in life that he enjoys, today.
Michael Smith was an electrician by trade, but dreamed of being a full-time wildlife photographer. That bluebird would make his dream come true.
That bluebird was no ordinary bluebird. He looked like a mad bluebird. The bird appears to be glaring and quite perturbed about something. At least that is what most people see in the picture, and that is all that matters.
Smith has sold over 100,000 signed prints of "The Mad Bluebird", plus tens of thousands of Mad Bluebird stained glass sun catchers.
He didn't really like the picture when he first saw it and still doesn�t rate it among his best.
He sold the photograph to National Geographic Society in 1983 and they used it on a cover of a brochure for a bird book.
People liked the picture so much that they would rip the cover off of the brochure and put it in a frame. The same thing happened when the photo appeared on the Duncraft birding supply catalog.
Duncraft got the idea to sell "The Mad Bluebird" photo as a print. The Signals catalog started carrying the print in 1996 and sales really took off.
Michael L. Smith says, "I was an electrician for 32 years and I made good money, but nothing like this."
The print is available in five catalogs, eighty retail stores and directly from Smith.
The National Geographic doesn't sell the print but still gets calls from people looking for it.
Smith charges $26 for a matted 5 X 7 matted print. The catalogs sell 5 X 7 framed prints for $58 and framed 8 X 10 prints for $95.
He still signs each print by hand. He bought a signature machine, but decided against using it because it was too impersonal.
Michael Smith will not say how much he has made, but he no longer works as an electrician. He has traded his townhouse for a 4,000 square foot home on thirteen acres in Maryland.
He spent most of his life taking intimate pictures of birds. He has slept in duck blinds waiting for a picture. He spent thirteen years of summer weekends documenting the habits of a single Osprey. He has crawled through his yard with a blanket over his head to keep from disturbing his subjects.
The picture that changed his life came almost by accident. He is grateful to that bluebird and stunned by the success.
When he first moved into his new home, "The Mad Bluebird" was the first thing carried over the threshold. A giant print hangs over his kitchen table to remind him whom he has to thank for his good fortune.
Michael Smith met his girlfriend while delivering a "Mad Bluebird" print to the nature store where she worked.
He gets tears in his eyes remembering the stories people have told him about how the picture has touched them. Cancer patients have related how the picture helped boost their spirits during tough times.
Was the bluebird really mad?
Experts say that the bird may have just been cold. Birds often hunker down and fluff up their feathers when they are cold. They say that looking at the configuration of the bird's head straight on with the brow low and a little point of red making the mouth look down turned causes people to interpret the bird as looking angry.
The bluebird was probably just thinking, "Where am I going to get something to eat."
Little did the bluebird know or care that one day he would be famous.