Eastern Bluebird

Sialia sialis
Family

Turdidae (thrushes) in the order Passeriformes

Description

The eastern bluebird is a small thrush with a plump body and short, straight bill. Upperparts are bright blue in the male, gray-blue in the female. Underparts of both sexes are rusty on throat, breast, and sides, with white on the belly and under the tail feathers. The female is paler below. Song is a blurry whistled series of notes, which some people translate as “Cheer cheerful charmer”; call is chuiree, with a soft descent but rising near the end.

Similar species: Though they are also blue, indigo buntings are not thrushes, they are in the cardinal family; they are smaller and have conical bills; the males are all blue (though they can look blackish in poor light) and don't have rusty or white anywhere. Blue grosbeaks are closely related to indigo buntings but are chunky birds with very large, triangular, silvery bills; males are blue with two rusty wing bars; underparts are blue with no white or rust. Another member of the cardinal family, the lazuli bunting, is very rarely seen in western Missouri; males have an orangish breast and white belly, similar to male eastern bluebirds, but they also have two white wingbars, conical bills, and are more turquoise-tinted.

Key Identifiers

 

  • Larger than most sparrows
  • A thrush (like a robin), with relatively slender bill
  • Rusty throat, breast, and sides; white belly and under tail 
  • Males blue above; females grayish blue above
  • Song distinctive, a blurry whistled series of notes
Size

Length: 7 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).

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Male Eastern Bluebird
Male Eastern Bluebird

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Photo of a male and female eastern bluebird
Eastern Bluebirds (Male and Female)
Female eastern bluebirds have the same basic coloration as males, but have gray instead of blue upper parts.

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Photo of male indigo bunting and male eastern bluebird perched near each other.
Indigo Bunting and Eastern Bluebird
Missouri's two most common blue birds are the indigo bunting and eastern bluebird. Male eastern bluebirds have an orangish belly.

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A bluebird perches at the opening of a bluebird nest box.
Bluebird on nest box
A bluebird perches at the opening of a bluebird nest box. Plans for building a box like this are available from the Department.

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Eastern Bluebird
Eastern Bluebird in Snow
An eastern bluebird eats a berry while trying to stay warm after a snowstorm.

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Eastern Bluebird
The eastern bluebird is Missouri's state bird.

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird
Eastern Bluebird
An eastern bluebird in Fenton sits atop a rotting maple branch, scanning the ground for insects.

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Video of eastern bluebirds in the wild.

Eastern Bluebird

The eastern bluebird's song is a blurry whistled series of notes, sometimes translated as “Cheer cheerful charmer”; the call is "chuiree," with a soft descent but rising near the end.

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Photo of an Eastern Bluebird in the snow
Eastern Bluebird
This eastern bluebird eats berries for energy after a snowstorm in December 2006 in Jefferson City.

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Male eastern bluebird perched on window ledge of car near rearview mirror
Eastern Bluebird Attacking Car Mirror
During breeding season, eastern bluebirds are strongly territorial and commonly attack their reflections in mirrors and glass windows, thinking they are battling an interloper.
Habitat and conservation

In summer, bluebirds are commonly seen in grasslands with scattered trees, farmland, and backyards in rural areas. Populations declined in the last century due to habitat loss, pesticides, and competition with non-native exotic species (house sparrows and European starlings). Conservationists rescued the species in large part by a widespread effort to erect and protect special bluebird nest boxes. Competition remains a concern, however.

Foods

Wild fruits are a favorite food of eastern bluebirds, including wild grapes, deciduous holly, and even poison ivy fruits. When there are nestlings to be fed, the birds forage instead for insects, which provide more protein for the growing young. Bluebirds forage by watching on perches for insects and flying down to pick them up or catch them in the air.

image of Eastern Bluebird distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide; in winter, more commonly seen in the southern half of the state.

Status

As a summer resident, common statewide; as a winter resident, uncommon in the south and rare in the north.

Life cycle

Eastern bluebirds begin arriving at their breeding locations in our state in March and April and migrate back south in October and November. They are cavity nesters, laying eggs in a hollowed-out cavity in a tree created by some other animal, such as a woodpecker. Competition of such sites has led people to construct nest boxes that fit the bluebird’s requirements. There are usually 2–7 eggs in a clutch, and 2 broods per season.

Human connections

As our official state bird, the eastern bluebird holds a special pride for Missourians. Its cheerful song and delightful bright blue plumage make it a pleasure to see, and bluebirds have long been associated with the idea of happiness. These lovable birds are a herald of springtime, and it's a joy to watch them raise their families in nearby bluebird boxes.

Ecosystem connections

Bluebirds catch a variety of insects, including many that gardeners and farmers would rather not have on their crops. Numerous species prey on bluebirds; although high cavity nests help provide some protection, eggs and young often become food for snakes and other predator species.