Living Bird Magazine
Mountain BluebirdSialia currucoides
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Turdidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Azulejo Claro (Spanish)
- Merlebleu azuré (French)
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 All About Birdhouses. Some retail outlets carry ready-made boxes, or build your own: you'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size for Mountain Bluebirds on our NestWatch site.
- Cool Facts
- Historically, the Mountain Bluebird depended for nest sites on forest tree cavities excavated by woodpeckers. Today, many Mountain Bluebirds breed in artificial nest boxes, which tend to be situated in more open areas and have smaller openings to keep out marauders and bad weather. Most of what we know about Mountain Bluebirds comes from studies of these human-made nesting sites.
- A female Mountain Bluebird pays more attention to good nest sites than to attractive males. She chooses her mate solely on the basis of the location and quality of the nesting cavity he offers her—disregarding his attributes as a singer, a flier, or a looker.
- A male Mountain Bluebird frequently feeds his mate while she is incubating and brooding. As the male approaches with food, the female may beg fledgling-style—with open beak, quivering wings, and begging calls. More often, she waits until her mate perches nearby, then silently flicks the wing farthest from him—a signal that usually sends him off to find her a snack.
- Mountain Bluebirds compete fiercely with other cavity-nesters over nest sites. Early spring arrival at nesting grounds, for example, helps them take possession of choice cavities before Tree Swallows can appropriate them. Northern Flickers sometimes enlarge the entrance holes of nest boxes before discovering the box is too small for their own use—rendering the boxes permeable to weather and competitors such as European Starlings.
- The oldest recorded Mountain Bluebird was a female, and at least 9 years old when she was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Alberta in 2005. She had been banded in the same province in 1997.