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Mountain Bluebird

Sialia currucoides ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: TURDIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Male Mountain Bluebirds lend a bit of cerulean sparkle to open habitats across much of western North America. You may spot these cavity-nesters flitting between perches in mountain meadows, in burned or cut-over areas, or where prairie meets forest—especially in places where people have provided nest boxes. Unlike many thrushes, Mountain Bluebirds hunt insects from perches or while on the wing, at times resembling a tiny American Kestrel with their long wings, hovering flight, and quick dives.

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Keys to identification Help

Thrushes
Thrushes
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Mountain Bluebirds are fairly small thrushes with round heads and straight, thin bills. Compared with other bluebirds they are lanky and long-winged, with a long tail.

  • Color Pattern

    Male Mountain Bluebirds are sky-blue, a bit darker on wings and tail and a bit paler below, with white under the tail. Females are mostly gray-brown with tinges of pale blue in the wings and tail. They occasionally show a suffusion of orange-brown on the chest. Mountain Bluebirds’ bills are entirely black. Juveniles have fewer spots than the young of other bluebirds.

  • Behavior

    Unlike other bluebird species, Mountain Bluebirds often hover while foraging; they also pounce on their insect prey from an elevated perch. In winter, the species often occurs in large flocks wandering the landscape feasting on berries, particularly those of junipers.

  • Habitat

    Mountain Bluebirds are common in the West’s wide-open spaces, particularly at middle and higher elevations. They breed in native habitats such as prairie, sagebrush steppe, and even alpine tundra; anywhere with open country with at least a few trees that can provide nest cavities. They also readily take to human-altered habitats, often nesting in bluebird boxes and foraging in pastures.

Range Map Help

Mountain Bluebird Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Male

    Mountain Bluebird

    Male
    • Long-winged, slender-bodied bluebird
    • Deep sky-blue above, paler on breast
    • Often seen perched on wires or fence-posts in open country
    • © Kurt Kirchmeier, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada, April 2012
  • Female

    Mountain Bluebird

    Female
  • Female

    Mountain Bluebird

    Female
    • Long-winged and slender-bodied
    • Female mostly dusky-gray overall with pale blue wings and tail
    • Often seen perched on wires or fence-lines
    • © Hawk Person, California, February 2012
  • Male

    Mountain Bluebird

    Male
    • Elongated body shape with long, pointed wings
    • Perches more prominently in the open than other bluebird species
    • Male distinctive with bright sky-blue plumage, paler on under-parts
    • © Jamie Chavez, Sisquoc, California, December 2011
  • Female

    Mountain Bluebird

    Female
    • Long-winged and slender
    • Pale, dusky-gray overall with blue on wings and tail
    • Usually perches in open on wires
    • © Raymond Lee, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, June 2010

Similar Species

  • Male

    Eastern Bluebird

    Male
    • Stockier and shorter-winged than Mountain Bluebird
    • Rich rufous/orange on breast and flanks
    • Thicker bill
    • © Rockytopk9, Tennessee, February 2012
  • Male

    Western Bluebird

    Male
    • Stockier and shorter-winged than Mountain Bluebird
    • Thicker bill
    • Rusty orange/rufous on breast, flanks and back
    • © Bob Gunderson, Antioch, California, May 2011

Similar Species

Males Western Bluebirds and Eastern Bluebirds are a darker, richer blue than the sky-blue of Mountain Bluebirds. Males of both Western and Eastern bluebirds are extensively orange below, and for Western Bluebirds this color often extends onto the back. Female Western and Eastern bluebirds have orange on the chest that is always richer and brighter than even the warmest-chested female Mountain Bluebirds. Juvenile Mountain Bluebirds are less spotted and have thinner bills than juveniles of other bluebird species. The bills of both Western and Eastern bluebirds are thick and typically have at least some yellow at the base. Another mountain thrush, the Townsend's Solitaire, can look remarkably like a female Mountain Bluebird but has shorter wings. On perched Townsend’s Solitaires, the folded wings fall well short of the tip of the very long tail, while the very long wings of Mountain Bluebird nearly reach the tail tip. Also, Townsend’s Solitaires have a striking buff-and-black wing pattern that becomes an even more noticeable, long buffy wing stripe when the bird is in flight.

Backyard Tips

Mountain Bluebirds take readily to nest boxes. If you live in suitably open habitat within their range, consider putting up a nest box to attract a breeding pair. Make sure you put it up well before breeding season. Nest boxes should be located away from buildings, areas of heavy pesticide use, and dense woods, ideally in open rural country with scattered clumps of trees or low shrubs. Mount boxes in pairs at least 100 yards apart, with 10 to 20 feet between boxes in a pair. Aggressive competitors can nest in the first box, leaving the second for bluebirds. The entrance hole should be about 1.75 inches in diameter, located about 6 inches above the floor of the box. It should face away from prevailing winds, and in an easterly direction to avoid overheating by afternoon sun. Ideally, there should be a place to perch within about 100 feet of the box, for when fledglings leave the nest. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Find out more about nest boxes on our Attract Birds pages. Some retail outlets carry ready-made boxes, or build your own: you'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size on our All About Birdhouses site.

Find This Bird

In the right places it can be a snap to find Mountain Bluebirds, as they are not shy of humans and live in fairly open country. They sit in the open on perches such as treetops, fence posts, and power lines. In summer in rural areas and ranches, particularly at higher elevations, you can often find them simply by driving rural roads and eyeballing such potential perches. In forested areas, look for them in large openings, particularly if there are aspen in the vicinity (aspen is a key cavity-providing tree in western montane forests). In winter, search for areas with berry-laden junipers and watch for flocks of birds feeding on those berries. Mountain Bluebirds often mix with Western Bluebirds, American Robins, and Cedar Waxwings when taking advantage of such fruity abundance.

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