Mountain BluebirdSialia currucoides

adult male
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adult female
Brian E. Small/VIREO
juvenile male
Laure W. Neish/VIREO
adult male
Glenn Bartley/VIREO

Family

Description

The powder-blue male Mountain Bluebird is among the most beautiful birds of the West. Living in more open terrain than the other two bluebirds, this species may nest in holes in cliffs or dirt banks when tree hollows are not available. It often seeks its food by hovering low over the grass in open fields. During the winter, Mountain Bluebirds often gather in large flocks, even by the hundreds, sometimes associating with Western Bluebirds.

Habitat

Open country with some trees; in winter, also treeless terrain. Often in more open areas than other bluebirds. Breeding habitats not always in mountains; found in lowland prairies and sagebrush flats as well as alpine zones above treeline. In winter, most common in pinyon-juniper woods but also in open grassland, desert, farmland, even barren plowed fields.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects and berries. Feeds heavily on insects, including beetles, grasshoppers, caterpillars, crickets, ants, bees, and others. Also eats some berries, including those of mistletoe, juniper, hackberry, and other plants. Berries are particularly important in the diet in winter.

Feeding Behavior

Often forages by hovering over open field, then dropping to the ground when prey is spotted. Hovers more than other bluebirds. Also perches on rock or low branch and darts out to catch flying insects.

Nesting

Sometimes interbreeds with Eastern Bluebird where their ranges overlap. Nest: Apparently the female selects the site for the nest. Site is in a cavity, usually a natural hollow or old woodpecker hole in tree, or in a birdhouse. Sometimes nests in holes in dirt banks, crevices in cliffs or among rocks, holes in sides of buildings, old nests of other birds (such as Cliff Swallow or Dipper). Nest in cavity (probably built by both sexes) is loose cup of weed stems, grass, twigs, rootlets, pine needles, sometimes lined with animal hair or feathers. Eggs: 5-6, sometimes 4-8. Pale blue, unmarked (occasionally white). Incubation is by female, about 13-17 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 17-23 days after hatching, are tended by parents for another 3-4 weeks. 2 broods per year.

Eggs

5-6, sometimes 4-8. Pale blue, unmarked (occasionally white). Incubation is by female, about 13-17 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 17-23 days after hatching, are tended by parents for another 3-4 weeks. 2 broods per year.

Young

Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 17-23 days after hatching, are tended by parents for another 3-4 weeks. 2 broods per year.

Conservation

Nests in many remote areas, where it is less affected than the other bluebirds by competition for nest sites with Starlings and other invaders. Numbers are apparently stable.

Range

Migrates relatively late in fall and early in spring. Winter range varies from year to year, depending on food supplies. Flocks sometimes wander east on Great Plains, and lone strays occasionally go as far as the Atlantic Coast.

Listen

flight or dawn song
song #2
song #1
juvenile calls
wavered calls
calls at dusk
song & chik calls

Similar Species

adult

Townsend's Solitaire

Solitaires are slim, long-tailed thrushes that perch upright in trees. As the name suggests, they are usually seen alone. Feeding mostly on berries in winter, each bird maintains its solitary status by defending a winter territory, staking out a supply of berries in a juniper grove or similar spot. These wintering birds often give a soft bell-like callnote; in summer (and sometimes in winter as well) they give voice to a complex song of clear musical warblings.

adult male, breeding

Northern Wheatear

On fall weekends in the northeast, birders sometimes hope (but never expect) to find a Wheatear. This small chat enters the North American arctic from both directions, via both Greenland and Alaska, but almost all go back to the Old World in winter; only the occasional straggler appears south of Canada. Northern Wheatears can be found in summer on rocky tundra, where they are inconspicuous until they fly, flashing their tail pattern. In the Old World there are almost 20 species of wheatears, most of them in desert regions.

adult male

Western Bluebird

In partly open terrain of the west, from valley farms and orchards to clearings in mountain pine forest, this bluebird is often common. In summer it is often seen perching alone on fence wires by open meadows, fluttering down to pluck insects from the grass. In winter, small flocks of Western Bluebirds are often heard flying overhead or seen feeding on berries in trees. Sometimes, as when juniper woods have heavy berry crops, the bluebirds may gather by the hundreds.

adult male

Eastern Bluebird

This is the most widespread of the three bluebirds. Although it is mostly "eastern" in our area, its total range extends south to Nicaragua. A high percentage of Eastern Bluebirds in North America today nest in birdhouses put up especially for them along "bluebird trails." When they are not nesting, these birds roam the countryside in small flocks.

adult male

Blue Grosbeak

The husky warbling song of the Blue Grosbeak is a common sound in summer around thickets and hedgerows in the southern states. Often the bird hides in those thickets; sometimes it perches up in the open, looking like an overgrown Indigo Bunting, flicking and spreading its tail in a nervous action. During migration, and in winter in the tropics, Blue Grosbeaks may gather in flocks to feed in open weedy fields.

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