We have reached the beginning of May in the rocky mountains and the Mountain Bluebird has begun to migrate back for the warmer weather. I spotted a few before May, but none came close enough for a photo.
The Mountain Bluebirds have two cousins, the Eastern Bluebird, and the Western Bluebird, both of which have an orange hue on their underbellies. In juxtaposition, the Mountain Bluebird male only has shades of blue and the female has shades of blue and gray. If you’ve seen either the Eastern or Western Bluebirds, the mountain variety will catch your eye immediately.
I spotted a male and female pair in the beginning of May around 8,400 ft of elevation perched on the top branches of a shrub, about five feet from the ground. These two turned their heads toward me as well as frequently scanning the ground for insects. The female flew down to the ground briefly and returned to her perch near the male.
Only observing them for about ten minutes, the Mountain Bluebirds made an impression. Often, I have a harder time identifying female songbirds because of their muted colors. This time, seeing the pair helped me immensely. Male songbirds, in contrast, usually have very bright colorings which help with easier identification.
Let’s take a look at this member of the Thrush Family, like the American Robin.
Turdidae, or Thrush Family.
- Males more vibrant and easily identifiable
- Males are a rich, dark blue on the head and back, lighter blue on the chest, and very light blue to white on the underbelly near the legs
- Females are gray-brown overall with a white belly and wings have blue tones throughout
- Has a longer, thinner bill than Eastern or Western Bluebirds
- Often seen foraging for insects on the ground or perched on a shrub, then quickly flying down to eat insects on the ground
- Areas with an elevation of more than 5,000ft
- Rangelands, woodlands, meadows, open desert
- Nest in cavities often on the edge of woodlands in summer
- Frequents recently burned areas
- Migrates to open, arid regions in the winter
- Migrates every year
- From Canada and some of Alaska in the north to southwestern United States
- From the eastern edge of the rocky mountains to the Pacific Crest mountains
Mountain Bluebird & The Journal
I had a great time leafing through National Geographic’s Western Birds and the Audubon Bird Field Guide to learn more about this species. Both books identify one species of bluebird by comparing it to the other two. Without seeing the Eastern or Western Bluebirds recently, I had to rely on the field guides.
At an elevation of around 8,400 ft, I saw this pair of Mountain Bluebirds. Against the melting background of snow, the crisp blue colors popped. I watched them and they watched me as I slowly inched forward toward them. In the field notes, I wrote how their behavior matched the guidebook descriptions in that they perched on a shrub and sought insects on the ground.
For something new, I ventured into bird feathers a little on this sketch. They obviously could improve, but I felt like I should try a little more now. The tail feathers fold into almost a rectangle when perched and their wing feathers lift slightly over the back of the bird. Both the male and the female had a very similar shape, so one outline worked well for both. I allowed the photo to depict the differences in color to match the description in the general characteristics.
Eventually, another hiker approached and the pair flew away. I managed to catch both birds in flight as they leapt off of the shrub in to the air, their wing tips tilted slightly upward toward the sky. The female flies in the bottom left of the photo below, slightly hidden behind the shrub and the brown background there.