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11 Blue Birds in Illinois

blue birds in illinois
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher in Cook, Illinois: Photo by Matthew Dolkart

Introduction

From electric blue jays to deep blue herons, Illinois provides essential habitat for a wide array of bird species graced with shades of azure, cobalt and sapphire plumage. These brilliantly colored birds find homes in the state’s diverse ecosystems from urban parks to lakeside wetlands. Let’s explore some standout blue birds to watch for in Illinois.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

  • Features: This large wading bird reaches 4 feet tall with blue-gray plumage ranging from silvery-blue on the head to darker on the tail. It has a sharp yellow dagger-like bill. The neck is long and slender with a tucked “S” profile in flight. 
  • Locations: Found year-round in Illinois wetlands, rivers, lakes, ponds and shorelines. Nests in large colonies called heronries. 
  • Fun Fact: Hunts patiently by standing motionless then spears fish and amphibians with lightning speed. The male gathers sticks for the nest platform. 

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea

  • Features: This small heron has powdery blue plumage with a maroon neck during breeding. It is just 22 inches tall with a reduced three-foot wingspan. The bill is slim and yellow.
  • Locations: Summer resident in Illinois fresh and saltwater marshes. Winters along the southern U.S. coast.
  • Fun Fact: Males make a snapping call with neck extended and plumes raised during courtship. Nests semi-colonially in trees over water. 

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)

  • Features: Stocky bird with ragged crest and dense blue-gray plumage. Females have a rusty belly band. Stout pointed bill. Distinctive rattling call.
  • Locations: Found year-round near Illinois lakes, rivers, ponds and estuaries. Excavates nesting burrows in stream banks. 
  • Fun Fact: Plunges headfirst from perches to catch fish and crayfish underwater. Breeding pairs defend linear territories along shorelines.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)  

  • Features: Crested songbird with bright blue wings, tail, back and head. White face and underside. Black collar necklace. Loud, sometimes aggressive calls. 
  • Locations: Year-round resident of woodlands, parks and backyards across Illinois. 
  • Fun Fact: Intelligent and social. caches and hides food like acorns to retrieve later. Nest is a sturdy twig cup placed high in trees. 

Purple Martin (Progne subis)

  • Features: Iridescent dark blue-purple swallow with crescent-shaped wings and forked tail. Fast direct flight with acrobatics. Unique liquid gurgling call.
  • Locations: Summer breeder across Illinois, nesting in erected boxes and gourds. Winters in South America.
  • Fun Fact: Eats flying insects exclusively like dragonflies. Originally nested in cavities but now dependent on man-made nest structures.   

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)

  • Features: Sleek iridescent blue-green back and white underparts. Slightly forked tail. Graceful flight alternating rapid wing beats with glides.
  • Locations: Nests in natural cavities and nest boxes near open fields and water across Illinois. Winters along the U.S. Gulf coast.
  • Fun Fact: Forages aerially over water catching insects. Readily accepts nest boxes but competition for sites is fierce.  

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)

  • Features: Tiny gray-blue songbird with thin bill and very long white-edged tail held cocked upwards. Constantly fans tail while foraging.  
  • Locations: Summer breeder across southern Illinois. Winters along the southern U.S. coast and Mexico.
  • Fun Fact: Forages actively in tree canopies for insects and spiders. Well-camouflaged nest is compact cup woven from plant fibers.

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

  • Features: Medium-sized thrush with bright blue back and wings, rusty breast and white belly. Both sexes slender with rounded heads. Sweet melodic vocalizations.
  • Locations: Year-round resident of open country with scattered trees across Illinois. 
  • Fun Fact: Requires cavities for nesting. Readily uses nest boxes. Forages for insects in open grassy areas.

Black-throated Blue Warbler (Setophaga caerulescens)  

  • Features: Male is bright blue above with black face and white underside. Female duller olive above with yellow face and muted stripes below. Forages actively in broadleaf forests.
  • Locations: Spring and fall migrant across Illinois. Breeds farther northeast. Winters in the Caribbean. 
  • Fun Fact: Males have distinct lazy “zoo-zee-zoo-zoo” song. The bright colors help males see each other in dark northern forests. 

Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea)

  • Features: Large finch with powder blue body on males, brown body in females. Thick conical light bill for crushing seeds. Rich warbling song. 
  • Locations: Summer resident across southern and central Illinois in weedy fields and open woodlands. Winters in Mexico.
  • Fun Fact: Female builds nest in a bush or thicket. Male sings from elevated exposed perch while breeding. 

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea

  • Features: Male is vivid blue overall in summer with black wing edges. Female is plain brown. Smaller and slimmer than Blue Grosbeak.
  • Locations: Summer breeder in weedy fields, forest edges and along roadsides statewide. Winters in Mexico and farther south.
  • Fun Fact: Male flashes brightly while singing high steady notes from elevated bare perch. Nest is open cup placed low in shrubs.  

Threats and Conservation

Habitat loss threatens many of Illinois’ blue bird species. Wetland drainage, development, agricultural conversion, and forest clearing remove essential breeding and foraging grounds. Pesticides reduce insect prey. Cats and collisions take a toll. Conserving wetlands and limiting development protects species. Careful building design reduces collisions. Keeping cats indoors helps songbird populations.

Citizen Science  

Illinois birders contribute to knowledge and conservation:

  • eBird sightings inform research on migration, distribution, behavior and declines. Photos document rare visitors.
  • Nest box programs for bluebirds, swallows and other cavity nesters gather breeding data while aiding populations. 
  • Feeder surveys help track winter irruptions and shifts in backyard birds like the Blue Jay.
  • Project NestWatch documents breeding success and trends over time for bluebirds, kingfishers and other cavity nesters. 

Conclusion

Whether a favorite backyard visitor or a migrant stopping briefly, blue birds enrich Illinois ecosystems and birders alike. Conserving the diverse wetland, forest, and grassland habitats they depend on will help ensure their future while providing enjoyment today.