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12 Blue Birds in South Carolina

blue birds in south carolina
Blue Jay in Charleston, South Carolina: Photo by Josh Lefever

Introduction

From jays chattering in oak forests to swallows skimming over fields, there is a variety of blue birds in South Carolina. Coasts, swamps, and woodlands attract these stunning azure-hued species that elegantly contribute to the state’s abundant biodiversity. Read on to learn about some of the vivid blue birds found across the Palmetto State.

Blue Birds in South Carolina

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

  • Features: This large heron has blue-gray plumage, a long neck, sharp yellow bill, and a black stripe over the eyes. It flies slowly with steady wing beats. Often seen standing motionless waiting to ambush prey. 
  • Locations: Great blue herons occur year-round in freshwater and saltwater wetlands across South Carolina. 
  • Fun Fact: Able to swallow fish whole by extending its neck in an S-shape after spearing prey with its dagger-like bill. 

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)

  • Features: A medium-sized heron with purplish-blue and maroon plumage in adults. The legs are greenish. Juvenile birds are all white with pale greenish legs. Less bold than the larger great blue heron. 
  • Locations: Little blue herons inhabit freshwater and saltwater wetlands across coastal South Carolina year-round with juveniles dispersing more widely.
  • Fun Fact: Originally called the “Blue Egret” before being given its current common name. Juveniles resemble snowy egrets while immature before developing blue coloration.

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)

  • Features: This stocky bird has a large head, shaggy crest, and thick pointed blue-gray bill. The female has an extra rufous belly band. Plumage is slate blue above with white undersides. 
  • Locations: Belted kingfishers occupy rivers, lakes, estuaries, and coastal areas across South Carolina year-round.
  • Fun Fact: The rattling call rings out as they aggressively defend fishing territories. They capture prey by plunging headfirst into the water.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

  • Features: This common backyard songbird has bright blue upperparts with a black necklace, white face, and black malar stripe. The crest and undertail coverts are also blue. 
  • Locations: Blue jays reside year-round in forests, parks, and backyards across South Carolina. 
  • Fun Fact: Highly intelligent and social, blue jays have a huge repertoire of vocalizations. Sometimes observed caching and burying acorns and other foods.

Purple Martin (Progne subis)

  • Features: A swallow with dark blue-black plumage, forked tail, and slender curved wings. Males are glossier blue-black overall while females are slightly duller. 
  • Locations: Purple martins in South Carolina nest in colonies in artificial multi-unit houses and forage widely over fields, lakes, and towns.
  • Fun Fact: Diet is entirely aerial insects caught on the wing. Their liquid gurgling songs are given by males from nesting colony sites.

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)

  • Features: Small iridescent blue-green bird with pointy wings, short notched tail, and white underside. Females are slightly duller than males with browner heads and whiter throats.
  • Locations: Tree swallows breed in cavities across South Carolina and feed aerially over open areas like grasslands and wetlands.
  • Fun Fact: They form huge migratory flocks in fall that congregate at prime feeding sites before moving south for winter.

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

  • Features: Streamlined small bird with steely blue upperparts, buffy cinnamon underparts, and long, deeply forked tail. Tail length varies among sex and age classes. 
  • Locations: Found in open areas with structures for nesting across South Carolina in summer. Winters in Central and South America. 
  • Fun Fact: Mud nests are constructed in the shape of a cup stuck to vertical surfaces on walls or cliffs. Nest sites are often retuned to year after year.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea

  • Features: A very small grayish-blue songbird with a white-edged tail that it constantly fans open and closed. The thin bill is black on top with a pale base below. The white eye ring contrasts against the darker head.
  • Locations: Blue-gray gnatcatchers are found year-round statewide from forests to orchards and parks wherever mature trees occur. 
  • Fun Fact: Forages actively in trees searching for insects, spiders, and other small prey. The song is a series of thin, soft squeaky notes.

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

  • Features: A medium-sized thrush with male’s bright royal blue upperparts contrasting with orange-red breast and white underside. Female is grayish overall with bluish wings and tail. 
  • Locations: Found in open country – meadows, pastures, fields, parks – across South Carolina. Readily uses nest boxes.
  • Fun Fact: The melancholy song consists of soft, warbling repetitions of “chur-lee.” Will sometimes raise multiple broods in a season.

Black-throated Blue Warbler (Setophaga caerulescens)  

  • Features: Male has black face and throat contrasting with brilliant blue back and clean white chest and cheek. Female is dull olive-brown with a pale yellowish face and breast. 
  • Locations: During summer in broad-leafed forests across western South Carolina. Winters in the Caribbean. 
  • Fun Fact: The male’s buzzy “zoo-zee, zoo, zoo, zee” song rings through the treetops within its breeding territory.

Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea) 

  • Features: Stocky cone-shaped bill. Male has deep blue plumage with cheastnut wing bars. Female is plain grayish-brown overall. First year males may resemble females.
  • Locations: Found in overgrown old fields, scrubby areas, and small forest clearings across South Carolina. Winters in Central America. 
  • Fun Fact: Secretive singer, usually staying hidden in dense foliage. Song is a rich warbling mix of gurgles, buzzes and whistles.

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)  

  • Features: Small seed-eating songbird with short thick blue bill. Breeding male is entirely brilliant indigo blue. Female is plain brown with faint wing bars. First year males may appear female-like.
  • Locations: Resides in weedy fields, brushy areas, forest edges across South Carolina in summer. Winters in Central America. 
  • Fun Fact: Male sings incessantly with a high-pitched buzzing song to defend his breeding territory. 

Threats and Conservation

Habitat loss, collisions with buildings during migration, outdoor cats preying on fledglings, and climate change are some key threats facing South Carolina’s blue birds. Providing natural food sources in yards, reducing threats to migrants, and conserving forests, wetlands and other habitats can help populations thrive.

Citizen Science

South Carolinians can help conserve blue birds by participating in projects like the Christmas Bird Count, Great Backyard Bird Count, or submitting observations to eBird. These citizen science initiatives provide valuable long-term data on bird populations in the state.

Conclusion

From jays chattering in backyard oaks to swallows skimming over wetland marshes, South Carolina’s diverse blue birds beautifully contribute to the state’s biodiversity. Ensuring healthy habitat remains through thoughtful conservation practices will help maintain these vibrant azure species for future generations.