Eastern Bluebird

Sialia sialis

Eastern Bluebird
Photo © Larry Hennessy/Flickr/Used With Permission

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 bird houses and nesting boxes also make it 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.

Common Name: Eastern Bluebird, Bluebird
Scientific Name: Sialia sialis
Scientific Family: Turdidae

Appearance:

  • Bill: Thin and pointed, dark color with paler gape
  • Size: 6-8 inches long with 8-9-inch wingspan, round head
  • Colors: Bright blue, white, gray, rusty red
  • Markings: Dimorphic species. Male birds 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 wingtips may appear darker blue or blue gray. Female birds are similar but usually appeal paler 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.

Foods: Insects, caterpillars, fruit, worms, amphibians, lizards (See: Insectivorous)

Habitat and Migration:

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. They are year-round residents in the southeastern United States, and summer populations range as far north as southern Canada.

These bluebirds are rare but regularly seen in western Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota, western Nebraska and western Kansas.

Vocalizations:

Eastern bluebirds can be very vocal in flocks. Their calls include a rapid, mid-tone chatter and several long dropping pitch calls.

Behavior:

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 repeatedly as they catch each new morsel.

Reproduction:

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. A pair of eastern bluebirds will raise 2-3 broods annually of 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.

Attracting Eastern Bluebirds:

There are several easy ways backyard birders can attract bluebirds. Eastern bluebirds readily nest in appropriate bird houses 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 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. Broad, shallow bird baths are also ideal for providing water to a flock of thirsty bluebirds.

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 bird houses 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 protect 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.

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