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12 Blue Birds in Arkansas

blue birds in arkansas
Blue Grosbeak in Drew, Arkansas: Photo by Ryan Askren

Introduction

From electric indigo buntings flitting through prairie grasses to great blue herons gracefully wading wetland margins, a variety of vivid blue-hued birds make their homes in the Natural State. Their cool azure tones stand out brilliantly against Arkansas’s canvas of forest, field, and waterways. Let’s explore some of the top blue birds gracing the diverse landscapes of Arkansas.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias

  • Features: Largest heron in North America with blue-gray plumage, long neck, dagger-like bill, and plume projecting from head. Slow, patient hunting style.
  • Locations: Found year-round along Arkansas’s lakes, rivers, marshes, and ponds stalking shorelines. 
  • Fun Fact: Nests colonially in trees, sometimes with other heron species. Young utter raspy calls from nest. 

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)

  • Features: Smaller heron with purple-blue body, greenish legs. Juveniles are all white. Reddish-purple head and neck in breeding adults. 
  • Locations: Fresh and saltwater wetlands across Arkansas. More solitary nester than great blue heron. 
  • Fun Fact: Stands motionless to wait for prey like small fish. An opportunistic and adaptable feeder.  

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)

  • Features: Stocky bird with shaggy crest and thick pointed bill. Females have rusty band across belly. Distinctive rattling call.
  • Locations: Found year-round near Arkansas’s rivers, lakes, ponds, and other waterbodies. 
  • Fun Fact: Excavates nesting tunnels up to 15 feet deep into riverbanks. Parents take turns feeding fish to noisy chicks.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata

  • Features: Crested blue, black, and white jay with blue crest, wings, and tail. Black necklace across throat. Omnivorous opportunist. 
  • Locations: Found year-round across Arkansas in forests, woodlots, parks. 
  • Fun Fact: Loud, sometimes aggressive. Highly curious and intelligent. Mate for life. 

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)

  • Features: Iridescent dark blue-green back and wings. Long, pointed wings and short legs. Quick, graceful flight.
  • Locations: Nests in tree cavities across Arkansas. Summers statewide and migrates south for winter.
  • Fun Fact: Hawks insects like flies, beetles, and bees on the wing. Readily accepts nest boxes.  

Purple Martin (Progne subis)

  • Features: Largest North American swallow. Dark blue-black plumage with iridescent sheen. Forked tail. Swift graceful flight.
  • Locations: Summer visitor, nesting colonially in provided houses. Requires open areas near water. 
  • Fun Fact: Males arrive early to claim the best nesting cavities. Females have pale gray underparts. 

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica

  • Features: Steel-blue upperparts, pale underside, deep forked tail. Flying insects are its sole food source.
  • Locations: Summers widely across Arkansas. Constructs mud nest cups on vertical structures.
  • Fun Fact: Males with longest tail streamers are preferred by females. Forms enormous migratory flocks in fall.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)

  • Features: Tiny gray-blue songbird with thin bill, white eye-ring, and long white-edged tail. Constantly active.
  • Locations: Summer breeder in Arkansas’s open woods and scrublands. Winters along Gulf Coast. 
  • Fun Fact: Males sing a high, buzzy song. Forages actively in trees for insects like beetles and caterpillars. 

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis

  • Features: Medium-sized thrush with brilliant blue upperparts, rusty breast and flanks, white belly.   
  • Locations: Year-round resident requiring open country with scattered trees for nesting in cavities. 
  • Fun Fact: Male helps feed nestlings and defend territory. Numbers declined from habitat loss but rebounded thanks to nest box efforts. 

Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea)

  • Features: Small warbler with pale blue above, white undersides with black streaks. Blue “eyebrow” stripe.
  • Locations: Mature deciduous forests, breeds in Ouachita Mountains. Winters in Andes Mountains.
  • Fun Fact: Skulks high in oak canopies picking insects from leaves. Population declining due to habitat loss.

Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea

  • Features: Large finch with thick conical bill. Males have deep blue plumage, females are brown. White wing bars.
  • Locations: Summers in overgrown fields and other open habitat with shrubs and small trees. Winters south.
  • Fun Fact: Sings a rich, warbling song like an American Robin. Fond of sunflower seeds at feeders. Defends nesting area.

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)

  • Features: Small seed-eating finch. Brilliant all-blue breeding males. Females mostly brown. Sing brief song of paired notes.
  • Locations: Summer breeder in weedy fields, brushy areas, forest edges across Arkansas. Winters in Central America. 
  • Fun Fact: Forms loose flocks in migration. Favors seeds from grasses and forbs in winter. Blue coloration comes from feather structure.

Threats and Conservation

Habitat loss poses significant threats, as development and agriculture degrade wetlands, forests, and open scrub needed by different Arkansas blue birds. Pesticides reduce insect prey populations that aerial feeders rely on. Climate change may alter suitable ranges. Collisions with buildings, vehicles and glass impact migratory species.

Protecting a diversity of high quality habitat provides essential nesting and migratory stopover areas. Reducing use of pesticides and chemicals leaves more insect prey. Making manmade structures bird-friendly with visual markers, reduced lighting, and angled glass helps reduce collisions. Keeping pet cats indoors protects wildlife.

Citizen Science

Arkansas birders make key contributions: 

  • Uploading eBird checklists tracks population trends, ranges, and migration timing. 
  • Participating in breeding bird atlases helps map distributions.
  • Building and monitoring nest boxes provides breeding data while boosting populations. 
  • Banding reveals migratory routes and bird life histories for focal species.
  • Annual Christmas Bird Counts tally birds wintering in Arkansas.
  • Outreach to inspire future naturalists ensures continued passion for conservation.

Conclusion

From riverbank kingfishers to grassland buntings, Arkansas’s diverse blue birds add beauty to each ecosystem. Stewarding fragile environments and monitoring populations will ensure these dazzling species continue brightening the Natural State for generations to come.