Bluebirds are a group of small, colorful songbirds in the thrush family. They are quite beautiful, even though they are not as flashy or dramatically patterned as some other backyard North American birds.
While several species of birds have blue feathers, “true” bluebirds belong to the genus Sialia. In North America, the three beautiful species of bluebirds are the Eastern Bluebird, Western Bluebird, and Mountain Bluebird. These attractive birds stand out for their brilliant blue plumage and melodious songs.
Many of our readers love Bluebirds, so we have definitely written about them before! But today, let’s learn about these true Bluebirds, as well as what differentiates them from other birds that just happen to be blue!
- Common name: Eastern Bluebird
- Scientific name: Sialia sialis
- Length: 6.3-8.3 in (16-21 cm)
- Weight: 1.0-1.1 oz (28-32 g)
- Wingspan: 9.8-12.6 in (25-32 cm)
The Eastern Bluebird is a small thrush with brilliant, azure blue plumage on its back and head. Males have a brick-red or rusty breast and throat, while females have a more subdued gray-brown coloration there.
These birds inhabit open country with some trees interspersed, including meadows, pastures, orchards, cemeteries, and suburban areas. They can often be seen perching on wires, low branches, or open ground as they scan for insects.
Eastern Bluebirds are migratory, with northern populations traveling south to the southern United States and Mexico for the winter. In spring, males return early to breeding grounds to select and defend nesting sites. They build nests in tree cavities, nest boxes, or old woodpecker holes. The female incubates the pale blue eggs for 14 days before they hatch. Both parents feed the young a diet of insects and berries, sometimes destroying other birds’ eggs to reduce competition. The young fledge after about 18 days.
Interesting facts about the Eastern Bluebird:
- The Eastern Bluebird is the state bird of Missouri and New York
- Nearly went extinct in the early 1900s, thanks to a triple threat of pesticide use, competition with non-native bird species, and the over-removal of dead trees that bluebirds need for nesting
- They are continuing to make a comeback thanks to nest box programs — proving that people can have a positive impact on conservation with a little intentionality!
- Common name: Mountain Bluebird
- Scientific name: Sialia currucoides
- Length: 6.3-7.9 in (16-20 cm)
- Weight: 1.1 oz (30 g)
- Wingspan: 11.0-14.2 in (28-36 cm)
The Mountain Bluebird breeds in open country across western North America, including prairie, sagebrush, and alpine tundra. The male’s bright blue plumage contrasts sharply with his white underside. Females are more subdued gray-brown overall with some blue in the wings and tail.
These birds winter in the southwestern United States and Mexico. They nest in cavities in trees, stumps, or nest boxes. The female builds the nest out of grasses and pine needles and incubates the pale blue eggs for two weeks before they hatch. Both parents feed the nestlings insects.
Interesting facts about the Mountain Bluebird:
- Mountain Bluebirds have incredible vision — they can spot insects in the grass from up to 50 yards away!
- Mountain Bluebirds are also very fast; they can fly up to 45 mph
- Common name: Western Bluebird
- Scientific name: Sialia Mexicana
- Length: 6.3-7.5 in (16-19 cm)
- Weight: 0.8-1.1 oz (24-31 g)
- Wingspan: 11.4-13.4 in (29-34 cm)
Found along the Pacific Coast, the male Western Bluebird has deep blue upperparts and rust-colored throat and breast. Like other Bluebirds, the Western variety female is lighter in color, but her pattern is quite similar to the male’s pattern.
They breed in open woodlands and cleared areas. These beautiful birds are year-round residents throughout much of their range.
Western Bluebirds are like their relatives: they build nests in holes in trees, stumps, or nest boxes. The female incubates the pale blue eggs for two weeks before they hatch. She raises the babies, which fledge in about 21 days. The Western Bluebird feeds mainly on insects but also some berries and seeds.
Interesting facts about the Western Bluebird:
- Thanks to their overlapping range, the Western Bluebird will sometimes hybridize with the Mountain Bluebird.
- Unfortunately, its population has declined in some areas due to habitat loss and competition from European Starlings.
Other Blue Bird Species That AREN’T Bluebirds
Let’s take a look at some of the other North American birds that may be blue, but aren’t part of the Bluebird family.
Blue Jay: This is a common backyard bird in eastern North America that is bright blue and white with a black necklace across the throat. They are omnivorous and are sometimes considered a nuisance. We recently wrote about Blue Jays vs. Blue Birds on Wild Bird Scoop.
Blue Grosbeak: This stocky finch (passerine) has rich, powder-blue plumage and a large conical bill. It is found in bushy habitats in the central and southeastern U.S., overlapping range with the Eastern Bluebird.
Indigo Bunting: This gorgeous, small songbird has brilliant, shimmering blue plumage in summer. Females are brown. The Indigo Bunting breeds in thickets and hedgerows in eastern North America.
Blue-winged Warbler: This one barely makes the list, but since it has blue in the name, we should take a closer look. Watch for a small wood warbler with a bright yellow body and slate-blue wings that may look more gray than blue. These birds live in shrubby habitats in the eastern and central U.S. and Canada.
Lazuli Bunting: This is a western relative of the Indigo Bunting with a bright blue head and back. Males lose some of their vibrancy during the winter months, and females are mostly brown. The Lazuli Bunting is found in open woodlands in western North America.
Outside of North America, other blue-colored birds include the Blue-throated Bee Eater (India and Southeast Asia), the Blue-throated Barbet (South and Southeast Asia), the Azure Kingfisher (Asia and Australia), the Blue Rock Thrush (Southern Europe and Asia), the Blue-winged Leafbird (Southeast Asia), and the Blue-capped Ifrit (New Guinea).
Does Seeing a Bluebird Have Symbolic Meaning?
Some people see Bluebirds as a sign of happiness and joy. They certainly bring joy to the people who see them!
Bluebirds hold a special place among North America’s avifauna. Their brilliant plumage provides a pop of color and their melodious songs brighten spring days. Protecting natural habitats will ensure bluebirds continue gracing the landscapes they inhabit.
Advice for Attracting Bluebirds to Your Yard
If you live in an area where Bluebirds live, you can try these tips to attract them to your yard!
- Provide nest boxes specifically designed for bluebirds. Place them in open areas away from trees with entrance holes 1.5-1.75″ in diameter.
- Place nest boxes in open areas at least 100 feet apart to reduce competition. Face entrance hole southeast for warmth and protection.
- Ensure a source of insects by landscaping with native plants and avoiding pesticides. Bluebirds feed heavily on insects–especially while breeding!
- Offer supplemental food like mealworms, crumbled suet, and fruit. Use bluebird feeders to provide food while minimizing competition.
- Supply a water source like a birdbath, dripping faucet, or fountain. Make sure the water is always clean.
- Limit access by predators like raccoons, cats, and snakes by using predator guards and baffles on nest boxes and bird feeders.
- Provide perching spots such as fences, wires, and dead branches for hunting perches.
- Clean out old nesting material annually to prevent parasites and disease. Avoid disturbing during nesting season.
Additional Reading About Bluebirds
Check out some of our recent articles about Bluebirds to discover valuable insights about these delightful birds!