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12 Blue Birds in Alabama

blue birds in alabama
Blue Jay in Dale, Alabama: Photo by Robert Gene

Introduction

From flashy indigo buntings flitting through prairie grasses to great blue herons elegantly wading wetland margins, there is a variety of vivid blue birds in Alabama. Their cool azure tones stand out brilliantly against Alabama’s canvas of forest, field, and waterways. Let’s explore some of the top blue birds gracing the diverse landscapes of Alabama.

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. Graceful, patient hunting style. 
  • Locations: Found year-round along Alabama’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 Alabama. More solitary nester than great blue heron.
  • Fun Fact: Stands motionless waiting for small fish. An opportunistic and adaptable feeder. 

Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)

  • Features: Slim, medium-sized heron with white belly, rufous neck, and bluish-gray body. Pointed bill with yellow base. 
  • Locations: Wetlands across Alabama. Often seen feeding alongside great blue herons. 
  • Fun Fact: Dances delicately through water teasing out fish. Will forage in grasslands. Nests colonially or alone in trees over water. 

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 Alabama 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 Alabama. Summers statewide and migrates south for winter.  
  • Fun Fact: Hawks insects in flight. Readily accepts nest boxes. Highly social around breeding colonies.

Purple Martin (Progne subis)

  • Features: Largest North American swallow. Dark blue-black plumage with iridescent sheen. Forked tail. Swift graceful flight.
  • Locations: Summer nesting visitor, requires open areas near water. Colonies use provided houses.
  • 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, deeply forked tail. Flying insects are its sole food source. 
  • Locations: Summers widely across Alabama. Constructs mud cup nests on vertical structures. 
  • Fun Fact: Males with longest tail streamers are preferred by females. Forms enormous migratory flocks.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea

  • Features: Tiny gray-blue songbird with thin bill, white eye-ring, and long white-edged tail. Constantly active forager.
  • Locations: Breeds in Alabama’s open woods and scrublands. Winters along Gulf Coast.
  • Fun Fact: Males sing a very high, buzzy song. Forages on tree branches for insects like beetles.

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

  • Features: Medium-sized thrush with brilliant blue upperparts, rusty breast and flanks, white belly. 
  • Locations: Open country with scattered trees needed for nesting in cavities.  
  • Fun Fact: Male helps feed nestlings and defend territory. Numbers increased thanks to widespread 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 Appalachians and northern Alabama. Winters in Andes.  
  • Fun Fact: Skulks high in oak canopies picking insects from leaves. Population declining sharply from 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 across Alabama. 
  • Fun Fact: Sings a rich, robin-like warbling song. Fond of black oil sunflower seeds. Defends nesting territory.

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea

  • Features: Small seed-eating finch. Vibrant all-blue breeding males. Females mostly brown. Sing a brief song of paired notes.
  • Locations: Summer breeder in brushy areas, overgrown fields, forest edges. Winters in Central America.
  • Fun Fact: Form loose migratory flocks. Favor seeds from grasses and forbs in winter. Blue 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 Alabama blue birds. Pesticides reduce insect prey populations that aerial feeders rely on. Climate change may alter suitable ranges. Collisions with buildings and vehicles also 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 human structures bird-friendly reduces collisions. Keeping pet cats indoors protects vulnerable birds.

Citizen Science

Alabama 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 Alabama.
  • Outreach to inspire future naturalists ensures continued passion for conservation.

Conclusion

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