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    Western Bluebird Life History

    Habitat

    Habitat Open WoodlandsWestern Bluebirds live in open woodlands and at the edges of woods. They are much less frequently seen in large meadows than either Eastern Bluebirds or Mountain Bluebirds. They live in evergreen and deciduous woods, particularly ponderosa pine but also pinyon pine-juniper, mixed conifers, and aspen stands. They thrive in disturbed areas such as burned forests or logged areas that still contain dead trees suitable for nesting and perching. During winter they inhabit pinyon-juniper woods, stands of mesquite, oak, or streamside woods, coastal chaparral, and desert.Back to top

    Food

    Food InsectsDuring summer Western Bluebirds eat mainly insects; in winter they switch to eating mostly fruits and seeds, supplemented with insects. They typically catch ground-dwelling insects such as grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, ants, wasps, and pillbugs, as well as eating spiders and snails. They’ve been seen catching marine invertebrates on beaches. Winter foods include many kinds of berries, particularly elderberry, grapes, mistletoe, raspberries and blackberries, serviceberry, sumac, chokecherries, juniper, and poison oak. Back to top

    Nesting

    Nest Placement

    Nest CavityA paired male and female search for nest sites together, inspecting cavities to see if they are suitable. Nests are placed in holes in trees (living or dead). Many kinds of trees are used, including pine, oak, aspen, willow, cottonwood, and sycamore, but they must contain a pre-existing cavity. Previous-years’ woodpecker nest holes are often used as well as natural tree holes, sometimes enlarged by other animals. Western Bluebirds readily take to nest boxes. They occasionally nest inside buildings or in the mud nests of swallows.

    Nest Description

    The females do almost all of the nest construction, gathering grasses, straw, pine needles, moss, other plant fibers, and fur from the ground and carrying it to the nest. She lines the nest cup with grasses, rootlets, feathers, horsehair, and sometimes bits of plastic. The nests are inside a cavity so they’re not as regularly shaped or tightly woven as typical cup nests. She may take 2 weeks to build her first nest of the season, but is much quicker when building a second nest of the year, completing it in under a week.

    Nesting Facts
    Clutch Size:2-8 eggs
    Number of Broods:1-3 broods
    Egg Length:0.8-2.4 in (2-6 cm)
    Egg Width:0.7-0.9 in (1.8-2.4 cm)
    Incubation Period:12-17 days
    Nestling Period:18-25 days
    Egg Description:Pale blue and unmarked, sometimes white.
    Condition at Hatching:Bare, pink skin with sparse gray down, eyes closed.
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    Behavior

    Behavior FlycatchingWestern Bluebirds tend to perch fairly low to the ground on prominent limbs, fence posts, and signs. They also tend to stay low to the ground when flying. They forage for insects by scanning the ground from a perch, then abruptly dropping to seize something they’ve spied. Outside the breeding season, Western Bluebirds are quite social, forming flocks up to about 100, sometimes with Mountain Bluebirds, American Robins, and Yellow-rumped Warblers. Their tree-cavity nest sites are a limited and valuable resource, and Western Bluebirds have to contend with competition from other bluebirds, swallows, nuthatches, some woodpeckers, House Wrens, and European Starlings. Western Bluebirds appear to be monogamous—one male pairs with one female to raise young each year. But experiments reveal that up to 45 percent of nests contain one or more young that are not the resident male’s offspring. Sometimes at nests, Western Bluebird pairs are joined by helpers who assist in raising the young. These are often adult males, but also include adult pairs and young birds.Back to top

    Conservation

    Conservation Low ConcernWestern Bluebirds are numerous and populations were stable from 1966 to 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 6.7 million with 67% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 52% in Mexico, and 1% breeding in Canada. They rate a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List. Threats to this species primarily stem from the loss of habitat both from extensive logging and from growth of forests as a result of the suppression of natural fires; also development and grazing have reduced habitat availability. Even in appropriately wooded habitat, people may remove dead trees in an effort to clean up; this limits the places where bluebirds and other cavity nesters can find nest sites. Aggressive, non-native cavity nesters such as House Sparrows and European Starlings may take over many of the nest sites that Western Bluebirds might otherwise use.Back to top

    Backyard Tips

    Western Bluebirds are mainly insectivorous in the summer and they can be attracted to feeders if you offer mealworms. Find out more about feeding mealworms to backyard birds on All About Birds.

    You can also invite bluebirds to a partially wooded yard by putting up nest boxes. Make sure you put up a nest box well before breeding season. Attach a guard to keep predators from raiding eggs and young. Find out more about nest boxes on All About Birdhouses, where you'll find plans for building a nest box of the appropriate size for Western Bluebirds.

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    Credits

    Guinan, Judith A., Patricia A. Gowaty and Elsie K. Eltzroth. 2008. Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

    Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

    Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

    Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski, Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

    Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

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