You’re out for a hike in the California hills and spot a flash of bright blue in the trees. Was that a bird? If so, which kind? California is home to three stunning species of blue birds, and with this field guide, you’ll be able to identify them in no time.
The Western Bluebird, with its rusty breast and melodic song, nests in oak woodlands and open grasslands.
The Mountain Bluebird, sporting pale blue feathers and a spotted breast, summers in the high country meadows.
And the Lazuli Bunting, with its indigo plumage and brown back, can be found in chaparral and brush. Keep your eyes peeled and your ears open – these azure beauties are all around if you know what to look for. With stunning photos and helpful tips, this guide will have you appreciating the diversity of California’s blue birds in no time.
The Different Species of Blue Birds in California
California is home to some stunning bluebirds. If you’re a bird watcher, here are the four main types of blue birds in California that may interest you:
- The Western Bluebird is one of the most common. With its bright blue feathers and rusty breast, you’ll see these little guys perched on fences or flying through open spaces. They make a “chur-lee” sound and feed on insects, spiders, and berries.
- The Mountain Bluebird has sky blue feathers and a grayish throat. As the name suggests, you’ll find them in higher elevations, especially in meadows and grasslands. They eat mostly insects but will snack on seeds and berries too.
- The Lazuli Bunting has deep blue feathers with rust-colored patches on its wings, back, and chest. The males are a vibrant blue in the spring and summer while females have brown and white coloring. They can be spotted in brushy areas, forest edges, and chaparral. Their diet consists of insects, seeds, and berries.
- California also has the Western Scrub-Jay with its distinctive blue crest and black-and-blue barred coloring. They are common in oak woodlands, scrub, and urban areas. Omnivorous birds, they eat acorns, insects, small animals, and eggs.
With stunning natural beauty and diverse habitats, California offers prime bird watching. So grab your binoculars and get out there – you never know which blue bird might catch your eye!
1. Identifying Western Bluebirds
Spotting a Western Bluebird in the wild is a treat. With their bright blue feathers and rusty-colored chests, these songbirds are easy on the eyes. To identify a Western Bluebird, here are four tips:
1. Look for the vivid blue plumage on the head, wings, and tail. The blue color is most prominent on the male, while females have duller blue feathers with gray undersides. Both have an orange-red breast.
2. Check for the white eye-ring. Western Bluebirds have a distinctive white ring of feathers that encircles each eye. This feature, along with the blue and rust coloring, sets them apart from other bluebirds.
3. Listen for the melodious song. The Western Bluebird has a warbling song with lots of variations. The most common is a series of soft, musical notes – ‘chur-chur-chur-chur’. Calls include a harsh ‘chack’ and a softer ‘tseep’.
4. Observe the habitat. Western Bluebirds prefer open woodlands, grasslands, and meadows. Look for them perching on fence posts, trees, or utility lines. They build nests in abandoned woodpecker holes or nest boxes.
With some keen observation, you’ll be spotting Western Bluebirds in no time. Once you get a glimpse of these colorful creatures and hear their lovely songs, you’ll see why they’re a favorite among birdwatchers. Happy birding!
2. All About the Mountain Bluebird
The Mountain Bluebird is a medium-sized thrush with bright blue upperparts, white underparts, and a medium-length tail. The male has a bright blue head, back, wings and tail, with a white belly and chest. Females are duller in color with bluish-gray upperparts and paler underparts. These bluebirds have a slender bill and short legs.
Mountain Bluebirds inhabit open woodlands, grasslands, meadows, and mountain forests across western North America. They require access to insects and spiders, as well as nesting spots with available cavities. You’ll often spot these vivid blue birds perched on fence posts, wires and branches surveying the surrounding area for prey.
The diet of Mountain Bluebirds consists primarily of insects and spiders which they capture during aerial foraging or glean from vegetation. Common prey includes grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, caterpillars, and flies. They will also eat small amounts of berries and seeds, especially in winter.
Mountain Bluebirds are monogamous and form breeding pairs each spring. The female builds the nest alone in a natural cavity, old woodpecker hole or nest box, constructing it from grasses, pine needles, and hair. She lays 3 to 6 pale blue eggs which hatch after 15-16 days. The young remain in the nest for about 3 weeks before fledging. Some pairs may raise two broods per season.
These stunning blue birds can brighten up any outdoor space. Seeing their flash of blue as they dart and dive for insects is sure to lift your mood and remind you of the simple pleasures in nature.
3. California Scrub-Jay
The California Scrub-Jay is one of the most common jays you’ll spot in California. Recognizable by its bright blue feathers and noisy call, this bird is a year-round resident throughout much of the state.
The Scrub-Jay has distinctive blue feathers covering most of its body, with a white underside and a black bib. It has a long tail and short, rounded wings. The Scrub-Jay is a medium-sized bird, around 11 to 12 inches in length.
Scrub-Jays are very social and travel in family groups. They are also quite bold, and may come quite close to humans. You’ll often hear their raucous calls before spotting them. Scrub-Jays are omnivorous; they eat acorns and nuts, as well as insects, small reptiles, and eggs.
As their name suggests, Scrub-Jays inhabit scrubland, brush, and open woodland areas. They especially prefer areas with oak trees, as acorns are a major part of their diet. Scrub-Jays build nests in trees, bushes, and scrub, and may use the same nesting site for many years.
The Scrub-Jay is a charismatic bird that adds life to the California landscape. Once you recognize these vocal, social birds, you’ll start noticing their antics and enjoying their presence. Take some time to observe these clever corvids in their natural habitat.
4. Steller’s Jay
The Steller’s Jay is one of the most recognizable birds in California with its distinctive blue and black plumage. These intelligent and social birds can be found throughout much of the western United States, especially in mountain forests and woodlands.
About the size of an American Robin, the Steller’s Jay has a crested head, bright blue feathers on its back, wings and tail, and a black head and chest. Look for the white streaking on its face and the white spots on its wings. Steller’s Jays are very vocal, with a variety of harsh calls, squeaks and whistles. They are often quite noisy, especially in the mornings.
Steller’s Jays are omnivorous, eating everything from nuts and berries to small animals and eggs. They are opportunistic foragers and will eat whatever they can find. These jays are also notorious for raiding the nests of other birds to eat eggs and nestlings.
Steller’s Jays are very social and intelligent. They often travel and forage in family groups and mate for life. These birds are excellent problem solvers and have even been observed using tools in the wild. Steller’s Jays are also quite bold and fearless, and may become quite tame around humans, especially if there is a possibility of food.
Steller’s Jays prefer coniferous forests, especially those with Douglas firs, ponderosa pines, and oaks. They build a nest of twigs, grass, moss, and feathers in the branches of trees, bushes or vines. Steller’s Jays do not migrate and remain in their home territory year-round.
With their striking blue feathers and raucous calls, the Steller’s Jay is a bird that is hard to miss in the mountain forests of California. These intelligent, social birds brighten the woods with their beauty and noise.
Physical Characteristics and Identification of Blue Birds in California
Size and Weight
The blue birds found in California come in a variety of sizes. The smallest is the Western Bluebird at 6 to 8 inches in length and 1 to 1.5 ounces in weight. The largest is the Steller’s Jay which can reach up to 12 inches in length and weigh up to 5 ounces. In between are the California Scrub-Jay and the Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay, both around 11 inches in length and weighing 2 to 3 ounces.
Coloring and Markings
Blue birds get their name from the primarily blue feathers covering their bodies, though some also have splashes of other colors like gray, black, and white. The Western Bluebird is bright blue on its head, wings, and tail, with a rust-colored breast. The Steller’s Jay has a dark blue body with a black head and bright blue crest. The Scrub-Jays have blue wings, tail, and head, with gray underparts and a blue-and-white striped throat.
Behavior and Song
Blue birds are intelligent, social birds that travel and forage in groups. They are omnivorous, feeding on insects, nuts, and berries. The Western Bluebird and Scrub-Jays have a variety of musical calls and songs they use to communicate with each other, while the Steller’s Jay is known for its loud, raucous calls.
To identify the different blue birds, look for differences in size, coloring, markings, behavior, habitat, and the sounds they make. With some practice, you’ll be able to spot the vivid blue Western Bluebird, the crested Steller’s Jay, and the two similar Scrub-Jay species that inhabit the diverse landscapes of California.
Conservation Efforts in California
The Importance of Conservation
As you’ve discovered, California is home to three stunning species of blue birds: the Western Bluebird, the Mountain Bluebird, and the Lazuli Bunting. However, due to habitat loss and competition from invasive species, blue bird populations have declined significantly over the last century. Conservation efforts are critical to protecting these azure beauties.
You can do your part to support blue bird conservation in several ways:
- Install nesting boxes in your yard, local parks, or wildlife refuges. Blue birds readily use man-made nesting sites. Monitor boxes to ensure non-native birds like sparrows do not take over.
- Provide mealworms or waxworms, especially during the breeding season and winter. Supplemental feeding helps blue birds survive harsh weather and raise their young.
- Plant native trees, shrubs, and flowers that produce berries and seeds. Things like elderberries, wild grapes, and sunflowers give blue birds natural food sources.
- Volunteer your time with conservation organizations like the North American Bluebird Society or Audubon Society. Help monitor blue bird trails, install nesting boxes, or participate in annual population counts.
- Spread awareness about blue birds and their plight. Educate others on identifying blue birds, their habitat needs, and threats they face. Share your passion for these dazzling songbirds.
Blue birds are an iconic part of California’s natural heritage. With ongoing conservation efforts, these colorful creatures will continue to brighten skies and lift spirits for generations to come. Do your part to ensure a future filled with the trilling songs and iridescent feathers of blue birds. Our azure allies depend on us.
So there you have it, a quick field guide to spotting the dazzling blue birds of California. Whether you’re a lifelong birding enthusiast or just getting into this rewarding hobby, keep an eye out for the Western Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird or Lazuli Bunting on your next trip outside.
Their stunning plumage and melodic songs are sure to brighten any day. Now get out there, find an open space, bring your binoculars and listen for their calls – you never know which of these blue beauties might flutter into view. The natural world is filled with surprises if we take the time to appreciate it.