With rich blue, white, and rust plumage, the eastern bluebird is one of the most beautiful backyard birds. Its melodious song, insectivorous diet, and willingness to occupy birdhouses and nesting boxes also make this member of the Turdidae bird family a favorite visitor for many backyard birders. The popularity of these birds has also brought them fame, and eastern bluebirds are the official state birds of Missouri and New York. There are always more facts to discover about eastern bluebirds, and even birders familiar with these popular birds can learn more about what makes these birds so amazing with this informational profile.
- Scientific Name: Sialia sialis
- Common Name: Eastern Bluebird, Bluebird
- Lifespan: 6-10 years
- Size: 6-8 inches
- Weight: 1-1.2 ounces
- Wingspan: 8-9 inches
- Conservation Status: Least concern
Eastern Bluebird Identification
Eastern bluebirds aren't the only blue birds to be seen, and it is important that birders easily recognize the key field marks that make this species distinct, from its bill to its markings to the unique plumage pattern of juveniles. First, the eastern bluebird's thin, pointed bill is generally dark but shows a paler gape, even in adult birds. Overall, these birds have a classic passerine shape with an upright posture and round head.
Male eastern bluebirds have a bright blue head, wings, back, and tail with a rusty red chin, throat, chest, and flanks. The lower belly and undertail coverts are white, and the wingtips may appear darker blue or blue-gray. Female birds are similar, but usually appear paler, dusty, or duller overall, with more noticeable gray on the head and wings. A faint white eye ring may be visible on both males and females.
Juveniles look similar to adult females, but the eye ring is more noticeable and they have gray spotting on the breast and pale spotting on the upperparts. This spotting serves as camouflage for young birds and wears off as the birds mature.
Eastern bluebirds can be very vocal in flocks. Their calls include a rapid, mid-tone chatter and several long dropping pitch calls.
Eastern Bluebird Habitat and Distribution
Eastern bluebirds are easily found in open fields and sparse woodland areas, including along woodland edges. In suburban areas, they are often found near open trails or golf courses. Their overall range extends throughout eastern North America, including southern Canada and central Mexico. These bluebirds are rare but regularly seen in western Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota, western Nebraska and western Kansas.
These bluebirds are year-round residents in the southeastern United States, though their summer breeding populations range as far north as southern Canada. In winter, their non-breeding range extends slightly further west in Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado. Overall, however, the bulk of the eastern bluebird's range is occupied throughout the year.
Eastern bluebirds are rarely solitary and will travel in pairs, small family groups, or small flocks that grow larger in winter as groups band together near food sources. The birds often perch in low trees or shrubs while scanning for insects with their keen eyesight, or they can be found foraging on the ground for insects and seeds. They often sally from the same perch, returning again and again as they catch each new morsel.
Diet and Feeding
Eastern bluebirds are largely insectivorous in spring and summer, eating a wide range of caterpillars, grubs, beetles, and other insects, as well as worms. In late summer, autumn, and winter, they will add more fruit and berries to their diet as insects become scarce. On rare occasions, these birds will also eat small amphibians and even lizards.
These birds are monogamous and stay together throughout the breeding season, with both adults contributing to nesting duties. These are cavity-nesting birds and the cavity will be lined with grass, pine needles, small twigs, and similar nesting material.
Eggs and Young
A pair of eastern bluebirds will raise 2-3 broods annually, with 2-8 light blue or whitish eggs per brood. The female bird does most of the nest construction and tends the eggs during the 12-16 day incubation period. The young birds stay in the nest for 15-20 days after hatching. During that time, both parents will feed the chicks and carry away fecal sacs to keep the nesting area clean.
Eastern Bluebird Conservation
While eastern bluebirds are not considered threatened or endangered, their populations have declined as nesting sites are taken over by more aggressive species such as house sparrows or European starlings. These larger birds may even kill adult bluebirds or chicks in an active nest. Carefully building birdhouses with the right entrance hole sizes and taking other steps to protect the house can give bluebirds a better nesting area while excluding unwanted birds. Other conservation steps essential to protecting bluebirds include minimizing pesticide use that destroys their food sources and preserving the habitat bluebirds need. The establishment of bluebird trails and conservation groups has helped draw attention to the hazards these birds face and what can be done to protect them.
Tips for Backyard Birders
There are several easy ways backyard birders can attract bluebirds. Eastern bluebirds readily nest in birdhouses and nesting boxes, often placed in open areas. Nesting boxes should be left up year-round for roosting birds, as bluebirds will readily use them in the winter for shelter during storms or bitter cold. Backyard birders can also attract these colorful birds by offering mealworms and suet in ground or platform feeders. A bird-friendly landscape with berry-producing shrubs will also help attract eastern bluebirds, particularly in fall and winter. Broad, shallow bird baths are also ideal for providing water to a flock of thirsty bluebirds.
How to Find This Bird
Eastern bluebirds can be easy to find where their populations are well established. Visit appropriate habitats and watch for these thrushes to venture back and forth several times from a favorite perch as they feed, or listen for their sweet songs to discover where eastern bluebirds are present. Nature centers and preserves with feeding stations will often attract eastern bluebirds, giving visitors excellent viewing and photography opportunities.
Eastern Bluebirds in Culture
These birds are popular throughout art and cultures. The eastern bluebird was adopted as the official state bird of Missouri in 1927, and was also give the honor to be New York's state bird in 1970. In every state, however, these birds are seen as symbols of joy and happiness, and they're often featured in artwork, greeting cards, figurines, holiday cards, and other decorative items.
Explore More Species in This Family
Eastern bluebirds belong to the Turdidae bird family, which includes more than 170 species of solitaires, thrushes, blackbirds, and other bluebirds. Close relatives of the eastern bluebird, including similar species in other bird families that are just as fascinating, include: