Lookalike Birds At Your Feeder: Bluebirds

Lookalike Birds At Your Feeder: Bluebirds

Male western bluebird feeding on sumac berries. Courtesy of Blalonde, Wikimedia Commons

There are three types of bluebird in North America: Western, Eastern and Mountain. The two that are difficult to tell apart are the Western and Eastern thanks to their very similar plumage. In both species the males are dazzling blue with orange-copper shoulders and breast and females are grey-brown with orange- copper shoulders and breast and blue highlights to their wings. Whereas mountain bluebird males are entirely blue lacking copper colouration and females are grey with blue tinted tails.

Eastern Bluebird. Courtesy of Joshua J. Cotten, Unsplash

Who are they?

Bluebirds belong to the thrush family. Birds from this family are found all over the world. They are medium sized and catch insects on the ground and sometimes in the air but are happy to eat seeds and fruits as well. Unlike other thrushes who build nests on branches, bluebirds prefer a more secluded home inside cavities such as abandoned woodpecker homes. It is therefore not such an unusual sight to see them in your nest boxes.

Eastern bluebird males will often chase off other birds from nest boxes when they are ‘property hunting’.

Western Bluebird (Sialia Mexicana) Male feeding young. Courtesy of VivaVictoria, Wikimedia Commons

Bluebirds will stay with their partner for multiple breeding seasons and years. Western bluebirds and to a lesser extent, Eastern bluebirds can breed cooperatively. That is, the previous year’s offspring sometimes stay around to help raise the new siblings.

Bird song has often been focused on from the male bird’s perspective: they sing to attract mates and defend territory. However studies found that Eastern bluebird females sing to communicate with their mate. When females sang the males responded by flapping their wings in a friendly display suggesting they were maintaining their bond.

Female bluebird. Courtesy of Channel City Camera Club, Wikimedia Commons

Where to find them

Eastern bluebirds range from the East of the rocky mountains while the Western bluebirds, yes you guessed it, are on the West side of the Rockies. Both species can be spotted from Canada to Mexico and Honduras. If you live near California, Portland, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Santa Fe, and Boise you will most likely be visited by the Western bluebird whereas if you live near New York, Toronto, Quebec, Minneapolis, Omaha, Dallas, New Orleans will most likely be visited by the Eastern Bluebird.

Their ranges do not overlap much but if you are in Mexico and Texas you might have a visit from both. They partially migrate meaning that those that live further North will move Southwards in the winter but within their usual range.

Range map of Western Bluebird. Courtesy of rbrausse, Wikimedia Commons
Range map of Eastern Bluebird. Courtesy of rbrausse, Wikimedia Commons

Spot the difference

Looking at them side by side it is easier to spot the differences however if one came to your feeder without kindly sitting next to the other, it might be more challenging. Eastern bluebirds have more copper colouration around their necks almost like a collar whereas the Western bluebirds have blue necks.

Western Bluebird Male. Courtesy of stephmcblack, Pixabay
Eastern Bluebird Male. Courtesy of Joshua J. Cotten, Unsplash

Females of both species are less blue but have blue colouration on their wings. Like the males, the Eastern bluebird females have more orange colouration on their necks compared to the Western bluebird females who have a grey head. The belly of Eastern bluebird females is more white than the Western counterpart who is more grey coloured.

Western Bluebird Female. Courtesy of Becky Matsubara, Wikimedia Commons
Eastern Bluebird Female. Courtesy of Dakota L., Wikimedia Commons

To make sure you collected them both on your BirdBuddy you might have to move across the Rockies.

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