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11 Amazing Blue Birds in Indiana

blue birds in indiana
Belted Kingfisher in Marion, Indiana: Photo by Peter F.

Introduction

From electric indigo buntings flitting through tallgrass prairies to great blue herons gracefully wading river marshes, there is a wide variety of blue birds in Indiana. Their cool azure tones stand out brilliantly against Indiana’s canvas of forest, field, and waterways. Let’s explore some of the top blue birds gracing the diverse landscapes of Indiana.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

  • Features: This largest heron in North America has steely blue-gray plumage on the head, neck, body and wings contrasting with a white face and black stripe above the eye. The long neck folds into an S-shape in flight. The dagger-like bill is perfect for spearing fish and frogs. A trailing breeding plume adorns the head. The slow, patient hunting style consists of standing motionless or wading through wetlands to ambush prey. 
  • Locations: Found year-round along Indiana’s lakes, rivers, marshes and ponds stalking the shorelines.
  • Fun Fact: Nests colonially in trees, often with other heron species. The young utter raspy calls from the nest when adults return with food.

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)  

  • Features: This stocky bird sports a shaggy crest and heavy pointed bill perfect for catching fish. The female has a rusty band across the belly, while the male has a solid blue-gray band. The rattling call rings out as the kingfisher flies rapidly over waterways. 
  • Locations: Found year-round near Indiana’s rivers, lakes, ponds and other waterbodies perched conspicuously before plunging for fish. 
  • Fun Fact: This kingfisher excavates nesting tunnels up to 15 feet deep into riverbanks and lake shores using the formidable bill. Parents take turns feeding fish to the noisy chicks.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

  • Features: This familiar backyard bird has bright blue wings and tail contrasting with a black necklace across the throat. The crest is also a deep blue. White and black barring on the back and undertail mirrors the bolder black and white face pattern. An intelligent and sometimes aggressive omnivore that will eat anything from nuts and fruits to eggs, chicks and insects. 
  • Locations: Found year-round across Indiana in forests, woodlots, parks and backyards. 
  • Fun Fact: This jay is loud and highly curious. Though social, mated pairs typically remain monogamous for life and work closely together to raise chicks. 

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor

  • Features: In flight, this iridescent dark blue-green swallow shows off pointed wings and a forked tail. These aerial adaptations allow the tree swallow to hawk insects on the wing. Perched, the white belly contrasts sharply with the jewel-toned upperparts. The short legs and small feet are suited for perching rather than walking.
  • Locations: Found widely nesting in tree cavities near water across Indiana. Winters along the southern U.S. coasts and farther south. 
  • Fun Fact: This energetic swallow will readily accept nest boxes, allowing for easy observation of breeding success. The warbling song echoes above meadows during courtship.

Purple Martin (Progne subis)

  • Features: The largest North American swallow sports a forked tail and long, crescent-shaped wings for swift graceful flight. Males appear glossy blue-black overall, while females have paler gray underparts. White patches are visible on the belly in flight. A very social species that nests colonially.
  • Locations: Indiana sees purple martins only as summer breeding residents, nesting in provided apartment-style houses. They require open areas near lakes or rivers.  
  • Fun Fact: To attract females, male purple martins arrive early on the breeding grounds to claim the most attractive nesting cavities with the best aerial insect access.

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

  • Features: In flight over fields, this swallow shows off steely blue upperparts,buffy underparts and a deeply forked tail. The elongated outer tail feathers give the tail a pointed look. Barn swallows are aerial insectivores, catching flies, moths, beetles and more on the wing. On the ground, look for reddish coloring on the forehead, throat and breast. 
  • Locations: Found widely nesting inside barns and under bridges across Indiana in summertime. Constructs messy bowl-shaped mud nests to raise young. 
  • Fun Fact: Male barn swallows with the longest tail streamers are preferred by females. In fall, barn swallows gather by the thousands to roost communally before migrating south.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)

  • Features: A tiny gray-blue songbird with a thin bill and very long white-edged tail that it constantly fans and flicks as it nimbly forages for insects. The white eye ring contrasts against the darker head. Males perform flight displays and sing a buzzy, insect-like mating song to attract females in spring.
  • Locations: Breeds in open deciduous woods and scrubby clearings across Indiana. Winters along the southern Gulf coast and farther south. 
  • Fun Fact: Forages actively in trees, gleaning small insects like leafhoppers, spider mites, beetles and caterpillars from bark and leaves. 

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

  • Features: The male’s brilliant royal blue upperparts and warm reddish-orange breast contrast elegantly. Look for the white belly and eye ring. Females are less vibrant, with grayer wings and paler orange underparts. A medium-sized thrush with a rounded head and short bill. 
  • Locations: Found year-round in open country across Indiana such as meadows, fields, and parks with scattered trees for nesting in cavities. 
  • Fun Fact: Males help feed nestlings and defend the territory from predators and competitors while females brood eggs and care for hatchlings. Bluebird numbers declined from habitat loss but rebounded thanks to nest box efforts.

Black-throated Blue Warbler (Setophaga caerulescens

  • Features: The male’s plumage is striking, with a black face and throat, pale blue wings, crown and nape, and white undersides with dark streaks. Females are dull olive-brown above with a pale yellow face and breast with darker streaks. This tiny songbird forages actively, hovering at leaves and branches to catch insects.
  • Locations: Breeds in Indiana’s mature deciduous and mixed forests. Winters in tropical forests further south.
  • Fun Fact: The male’s high-pitched, buzzing “zoo-zee” song rings through the forest to advertise territory and attract females. Nests on the ground hidden by ferns or tree roots.

Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea)

  • Features: One of the larger songbirds, this species sports a thick conical beak suited for crushing seeds. Males are a distinctive deep blue with reddish-brown wing bars, while females are mostly brown with streaky patterning for camouflage. Sings a rich, robin-like warbling song.
  • Locations: Breeds in overgrown fields, prairie edges, roadsides and open areas with shrubs and small trees across Indiana. Winters in the southern U.S. and Caribbean.  
  • Fun Fact: The male blue grosbeak staunchly defends its nesting territory, chasing off intruders with aggressive abandon. This bird is also fond of sunflower seeds at feeders.

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea

  • Features: This small seed-eating finch shows a striking color difference between the sexes. Breeding males glow brilliant all-blue while females appear mostly brown with subtle blue highlights in the wings. The conical bill is well-suited for cracking seeds. Sings a distinctive song of paired notes. 
  • Locations: Breeds in weedy fields, brushy fencerows, forest edges and overgrown areas across Indiana. Winters in Central America. 
  • Fun Fact: During the fall and winter months, indigo buntings form loose nomadic flocks that forage for grass and forb seeds. The vivid blue coloration comes not from pigment, but the structure of the feathers.

Threats and Conservation

Habitat loss poses significant threats, as development and agriculture degrade Indiana’s wetlands, forests, and scrublands required by different blue bird species. Pesticides reduce insect prey populations relied upon by aerial insectivores. Climate change may alter range suitability. Windows can kill migrating birds drawn to artificial light.

Protecting a diversity of natural habitats provides essential breeding and migratory stopover sites. Reducing pesticide use leaves more insect food sources. Making structures bird friendly with reduced lighting, screens and angled glass helps reduce collisions. Keeping pet cats indoors protects birds. 

Citizen Science Opportunities

Indiana birders make key contributions:

  • Uploading checklists to eBird tracks population trends, distributions, and migration timing.
  • Participating in breeding bird atlases helps map species ranges.  
  • Building nest boxes and monitoring breeding success provides data while aiding cavity nesters.
  • Banding reveals migratory routes and bird life histories. 
  • Annual Christmas Bird Counts tally birds wintering in Indiana.
  • Outreach inspires future generations to value conservation.

Conclusion

From grassland buntings to forest warblers, Indiana’s diverse blue birds fill valuable niches in natural ecosystems. Protecting habitats through conservation action will ensure these colorful species continue lighting up the Hoosier sky for generations.