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12 Blue Birds in Tennessee

blue birds in tennessee
Indigo Bunting in Tennessee: Photo by Victor Stoll

Introduction

Nestled within the heart of Tennessee’s diverse landscapes lies a variety of beautiful birds. From the canopies of old forests to meadows and wetlands, Tennessee offers a haven for a remarkable variety of bird species. In this comprehensive guide, we’re uncovering the beauty and diversity of its blue bird species. Join us as we explore the fascinating world of blue birds in Tennessee, from herons to warblers, and discover the secrets of the blue birds that call Tennessee home.

Blue Birds in Tennessee


Jump to a species!


Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea):

Little blue herons are commonly found in Tennessee’s wetlands and marshes, recognizable by their striking blue-gray plumage.

  • Features: This heron is relatively small, featuring a slender body, a thin neck, and elongated legs. Its wings are rounded, and it boasts a lengthy, straight bill resembling a spear, thicker at its base. Fully grown Little Blue Herons exhibit a deep, uniform darkness throughout their plumage. When seen up close or under good lighting, they showcase a vibrant purple-maroon hue on their head and neck, contrasting with a dark slaty-blue body. Their eyes are yellow, legs tinted greenish, and their bill transitions from a pale blue at the base to black at the tip. Juveniles appear entirely white, except for faint dusky hints on the outer wing feathers. As they transition into adult plumage, immatures display a mixture of white and blue patches.
  • Behavior: The Little Blue Heron adopts a patient hunting strategy, favoring stillness over rapid movements. They patiently survey the water for fish and other prey, shifting positions by either leisurely walking or flying to entirely new locations. When it comes to nesting, they typically choose trees, often amidst other nesting herons and wading birds.
  • Habitat: Search for Little Blue Herons in tranquil waters, spanning from tidal flats and estuaries to streams, marshes, and inundated fields. Typically, they’re present in small groups scattered across various water bodies, often nestled in secluded spots.
  • Range: Little Blue Herons can be seen all over Tennessee but not as regularly as Great Blues.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: When you’re watching flocks of white herons and egrets feeding in unison, keep an eye out for the unhurried, purposeful actions of a young Little Blue Heron. Its graceful and deliberate stride sets it apart from similar birds that often dart around with more speed or unpredictability.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias):

Great blue herons are iconic wading birds known for their impressive size and striking appearance.

  • Features: The largest among North American herons, the Great Blue Heron boasts elongated legs, a gracefully curved neck, and a robust, dagger-shaped bill. Its head, chest, and wing plumes contribute to its rugged appearance. When airborne, it elegantly arches its neck into a tight “S” shape, with broad, rounded wings and legs extending far beyond its tail. From a distance, Great Blue Herons exhibit a blue-gray hue, often featuring a prominent black stripe above the eye. During flight, the upper wing displays a contrasting two-toned effect: pale on the forewing and darker on the flight feathers.
  • Behavior: Great Blue Herons engage in slow wading or adopt a statuesque stance as they stealthily pursue fish and other prey in shallow waters or open fields. Keep an eye out for their rapid neck and head movements, swiftly striking with their formidable bills. Their leisurely wingbeats, retracted neck, and trailing legs contribute to their distinctive silhouette in flight.
  • Habitat: Search for Great Blue Herons in both saltwater and freshwater environments, spanning from open coastlines, marshlands, and riverbanks to lakes and even residential goldfish ponds. They can also be found foraging in grassy areas and agricultural fields. During the breeding season, these birds congregate in colonies known as “heronries,” where they construct stick nests elevated high above the ground.
  • Range: Common throughout Tennessee where suitable habitat is available.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Great Blue Herons possess the ability to hunt both during the day and at night, owing to a significant proportion of rod-type photoreceptors in their eyes, enhancing their nocturnal vision.

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon):

Belted kingfishers are energetic birds commonly found near water bodies throughout Tennessee.

  • Features: Belted Kingfishers are robust birds with large heads, featuring a crest along the top and back. They sport a straight, stout, pointed bill, short legs, and medium-length tails with square tips. Their upper plumage is a blue-gray color with white speckling on the wings and tail, while their underparts are predominantly white, accented by a wide blue band across the breast. Additionally, females exhibit a broad rusty band on their lower abdomen. Juveniles show rusty markings within the breast band.
  • Behavior: Belted Kingfishers typically occupy solitary perches along the shores of streams, lakes, and estuaries, dedicating their time to hunting small fish. They are known for their swift flights along rivers and coastlines, emitting loud rattling calls. Their hunting techniques involve either plunging directly from a perch into the water or hovering over the surface with their bill pointed downward before diving after a targeted fish.
  • Habitat: Kingfishers inhabit areas in close proximity to streams, rivers, ponds, lakes, and estuaries. They construct their nests by excavating burrows into soft earthen banks, often situated near or directly above water bodies. During the winter months, they migrate to regions where water remains conveniently unfrozen, ensuring uninterrupted access to their prey.
  • Range: Belted Kingfishers are common all over Tennessee near any and all bodies of water. If there are fish to be king-ed, there will kingfishers.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Fossils of Belted Kingfishers dating back to as old as 600,000 years have been discovered in various locations including Florida, Virginia, Tennessee, and Texas. The oldest known fossil belonging to the kingfisher genus, dating back 2 million years, was found in Alachua County, Florida.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata):

Blue jays are intelligent and noisy birds commonly found in Tennessee’s woodlands and urban areas.

  • Features: A sizable songbird adorned with a prominent crest and a broad, rounded tail, the Blue Jay falls between the size of crows and robins. Its underside is characterized by white or light gray coloring, while its upper parts display a range of shades including blue, black, and white.
  • Behavior: Blue Jays emit a diverse array of calls that can be heard over long distances, often while perched within a tree. They typically traverse open spaces in silence, particularly during migration. To store food for later consumption, they pack items into their throat pouches to be cached elsewhere. When dining, they grasp seeds or nuts with their feet and crack them open with pecks.
  • Habitat: Blue Jays thrive in the transitional zones of forests, particularly favoring areas abundant with oak trees due to their preference for acorns. You can commonly spot them in forests, woodlots, urban areas, and parks.
  • Range: In Tennessee, blue jays can be seen throughout. But I’m guessing you know that.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Blue Jays flatten their crests while peacefully feeding alongside family and fellow flock members or caring for their nestlings.

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor):

Tree swallows, with their iridescent blue and white plumage, are agile aerial acrobats commonly seen in open areas across Tennessee.

  • Features: Tree Swallows are sleek, diminutive songbirds characterized by elongated, pointed wings and a short, squared, or slightly notched tail. They possess very short, flat bills. Adult males exhibit a blue-green upper plumage and white underparts, contrasted by blackish flight feathers and a slender black eye mask. In contrast, females display a duller appearance with more brown tones on their upperparts. Juveniles are entirely brown above, while some females and juveniles may feature a faint, indistinct gray-brown breast band.
  • Behavior: Tree Swallows sustain themselves by capturing small, airborne insects mid-flight using acrobatic maneuvers. Following the breeding season, they congregate in sizable flocks for molting and migration. During the nonbreeding period, they assemble in vast communal roosts.
  • Habitat: Tree Swallows establish breeding territories in expansive environments like fields and wetlands, often situated near water sources. They construct their nests in both artificial nest boxes and natural tree hollows. You can commonly observe foraging flocks of Tree Swallows soaring above wetlands, bodies of water, and agricultural fields.
  • Range: Can be seen all over the state.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: The Tree Swallow, typically spotted in open, treeless landscapes, earns its name from its nesting behavior, as it often utilizes tree cavities for nesting sites. Additionally, they readily accept and utilize nest boxes for breeding purposes.

Purple Martin (Progne subis):

Purple martins are charismatic songbirds known for their vibrant plumage and aerial displays, frequenting open areas across Tennessee.

  • Features: Purple Martins are notably large swallows with broad chests. They feature stout bills with a slight hook, short tails that fork at the end, and elongated, tapered wings. Fully grown males display an iridescent, deep blue-purple plumage throughout their bodies, complemented by brown-black wings and tail. In contrast, females and immature individuals exhibit a more subdued appearance, often showcasing varying degrees of gray on the head and chest, along with a whitish lower belly.
  • Behavior: Purple Martins dart swiftly through the air, employing a combination of flapping and gliding movements. They engage in aerial feeding, capturing sizable insects like dragonflies while in flight. These birds typically feed and roost in groups, frequently mingling with other swallow species. Their tendency to forage at higher altitudes than other swallows can sometimes make them challenging to observe.
  • Habitat: Purple Martins exhibit colonial nesting behavior, with numerous individuals nesting together in close proximity. They prefer open habitats, particularly those near water sources, for foraging. In the eastern regions, they primarily utilize nest boxes and martin houses for nesting, while in the western regions, they often nest in natural cavities.
  • Range: In Tennessee, Purple Martins are distributed across the entire state in suitable habitat.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: The Purple Martin relies entirely on aerial foraging for both food and water. It skims the surface of ponds, scooping up water with its lower bill while in flight.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea):

Blue-gray gnatcatchers are tiny songbirds with distinctive blue-gray plumage, often found flitting about in Tennessee’s woodlands and scrublands.

  • Features: Blue-gray Gnatcatchers are petite, slender songbirds characterized by long legs, a lengthy tail, and a slender, straight bill. They feature a pale blue-gray plumage with grayish-white underparts, along with a predominantly black tail edged in white. The underside of their tails is mostly white, while their faces are adorned with a distinct, thin white eyering. During the summer, male Blue-gray Gnatcatchers exhibit a black “V” marking on their foreheads extending above their eyes.
  • Behavior: The lively Blue-gray Gnatcatcher is almost always in motion, darting through shrubs and trees in pursuit of small insects, its tail held at a distinctive jaunty angle. These birds are known to glean food from spiderwebs and sometimes even pilfer strands of webbing for use in constructing their tiny, knot-shaped nests.
  • Habitat: In eastern regions, gnatcatchers breed within deciduous forests and along their edges, particularly favoring moist habitats. In the western areas, they can be found in shorter woodlands and shrublands, including pinyon-juniper and oak woodlands.
  • Range: Common throughout all of Tennessee.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Despite their name, gnats do not constitute a substantial portion of the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher’s diet.

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis):

Eastern bluebirds are charming songbirds renowned for their vibrant blue plumage and melodic songs, gracing Tennessee’s open woodlands and fields.

  • Features: The Eastern Bluebird, a diminutive thrush, possesses a prominently rounded head, large eyes, a robust body, and an attentive stance. While its wings are lengthy, its tail and legs are relatively short, and its bill is short and straight. Male Eastern Bluebirds showcase a vibrant, deep blue upper plumage, complemented by rusty or brick-red coloring on the throat and breast. However, the blue hue can appear grayish-brown from a distance due to lighting variations. Females exhibit a more subdued appearance, with grayish upperparts, bluish wings and tail, and a muted orange-brown breast.
  • Behavior: Eastern Bluebirds maintain an upright posture while perched on wires, posts, and low branches in open landscapes, diligently scanning the ground for prey. Their feeding behavior involves dropping down to the ground to capture insects or, during the fall and winter months, perching on fruiting trees to consume berries. Additionally, Bluebirds frequently utilize nest boxes and repurpose old woodpecker holes for nesting purposes.
  • Habitat: Eastern Bluebirds inhabit meadows and clearings bordered by trees that provide suitable nesting sites. Thanks to the widespread installation of nest boxes and establishment of bluebird trails, these birds have become a familiar sight along roadsides, field boundaries, golf courses, and other open landscapes.
  • Range: You can find Eastern Bluebirds all throughout the state.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Eastern bluebirds have experienced population declines in the past due to habitat loss and competition from introduced species like European starlings. However, conservation efforts, including the provision of nest boxes, have helped stabilize their populations in many areas.

Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea):

Cerulean warblers are striking migratory songbirds known for their vibrant blue plumage and sweet, buzzy songs, inhabiting Tennessee’s deciduous forests during the breeding season.

  • Features: A petite, well-proportioned warbler, often observed perching horizontally. It features a small, rounded bill and a shorter tail compared to some other warbler species. Male Cerulean Warblers exhibit sky-blue upperparts with two white wing bars, dark streaks on the back, a delicate blue neck band, and blue streaks along the sides of their white belly. In contrast, females display a bluish-green upper plumage with a subtle yellow tint underneath. They lack the streaked sides and neck band found in males and also boast a whitish eyebrow and two white wing bars.
  • Behavior: It hops along branches within the upper canopy and frequently forages near openings in the canopy. Male Cerulean Warblers produce a buzzy, rising song.
  • Habitat: During the breeding season, the Cerulean Warbler inhabits mature deciduous forests characterized by tall trees and a sparse understory. In contrast, during the winter months, it seeks refuge in broad-leaved, evergreen forests across South America.
  • Range: Cerulean Warblers are secretive but widespread residents in Tennessee, scattered throughout the state.
  • Conservation Status: Near Threatened
  • Fun Fact: During the winter months in South America, the Cerulean Warbler typically joins mixed-species canopy flocks, often mingling with tropical tanagers and other indigenous bird species.

Black-throated Blue Warbler (Setophaga caerulescens):

Black-throated blue warblers are striking songbirds known for their contrasting black-and-white plumage and rich blue hues, gracing Tennessee’s forests during the breeding season.

  • Features: Black-throated Blue Warblers are petite birds with sleek, pointed bills. In comparison to other warblers, they are relatively larger and more robust. Males sport a striking midnight blue upper plumage and white underparts, accented by black markings on the throat, face, and sides. Females exhibit a simpler grayish-olive hue throughout, although some may display hints of blue on the wings and tail. Both genders feature a distinctive small white square on the wing, often referred to as a “pocket handkerchief.”
  • Behavior: These avians scour the understory and lower canopy of forests, meticulously plucking insects from the undersides of leaves. Male Black-throated Blue Warblers vocalize to protect their breeding territories and vigorously pursue rival males to maintain their dominance.
  • Habitat: Black-throated Blue Warblers inhabit extensive areas of hardwood and mixed hardwood-evergreen forests that feature a dense shrubby understory.
  • Range: Black-throated Blue Warblers are generally more common in the eastern half of the state, particularly in the mountains between Asheville and Chattanooga.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: In the Dominican Republic, Black-throated Blue Warblers capitalize on a delectable resource produced by insects collecting tree sap. These insects consume tree sap and expel droplets of sweet sap or “honeydew” from their posterior, which the warblers eagerly consume.

Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea):

Blue grosbeaks are striking songbirds known for their vibrant blue plumage and melodious songs, frequenting Tennessee’s grasslands, shrubby areas, and forest edges.

  • Features: The Blue Grosbeak is a robust songbird characterized by a notably large, triangular bill that appears to dominate the front of its face, spanning from the throat to the forehead. Adult males boast a deep, vibrant blue plumage with a small black mask in front of the eyes, chestnut wing bars, and a striking black-and-silver bill. In contrast, females exhibit predominantly rich cinnamon-brown coloring, with the hue intensifying on the head and fading on the underparts, while their tails possess a bluish tint. Both genders display two distinct wing bars, with the upper one being chestnut and the lower one grayish to buffy. Immature Blue Grosbeaks typically showcase a rich, dark chestnut brown plumage, accented by chestnut wing bars.
  • Behavior: Blue Grosbeaks possess a striking appearance, yet they often blend discreetly into their surroundings. However, during the summer months, male individuals frequently serenade with their delightful, melodious warbling songs. They often sing from elevated perches amidst the shrubs and small trees within their predominantly open or shrubby habitats. Keep an ear out for their distinct, almost metallic “chink” call. Additionally, observe their peculiar behavior of flicking their tails sideways.
  • Habitat: Blue Grosbeaks are emblematic of old fields in the early stages of transitioning into woodlands. They prefer breeding grounds adorned with a blend of grass, forbs, and shrubs, typically interspersed with a scattering of taller trees. In drier regions, they frequently inhabit the shrubby vegetation along watercourses.
  • Range: Found throughout the entire state.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Blue Grosbeaks have extended their range northward in the United States over the past century or two, potentially benefiting from the clearing of forests.

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea):

Indigo buntings are dazzling songbirds known for their brilliant indigo-blue plumage, captivating Tennessee’s open woodlands, fields, and gardens during the breeding season.

  • Features: Indigo Buntings are compact birds, approximately the size of sparrows, characterized by their robust build, short tails, and stout, conical bills. When in flight, they present a plump silhouette with short, rounded tails. During the breeding season, male Indigo Buntings showcase a vibrant blue plumage across their entire body, with a slightly deeper shade of blue on the head, complemented by a glossy, silver-gray bill. In contrast, females exhibit a predominantly brown hue, adorned with subtle breast streaks, a whitish throat, and occasionally hints of blue on the wings, tail, or rump. Immature males have a mottled pattern of blue and brown feathers.
  • Behavior: Throughout the summer, male Indigo Buntings can be heard singing from various perches such as treetops, shrubs, and telephone lines. This species sustains itself by consuming insects, seeds, and berries, and it can be enticed to visit backyard feeders containing thistle or nyjer seed. While perched, they frequently exhibit a distinctive behavior of swishing their tails from side to side. Although relatively solitary during the breeding season, Indigo Buntings congregate in large flocks during migration and on their wintering grounds.
  • Habitat: Search for Indigo Buntings in areas characterized by dense vegetation, particularly where fields intersect with forests. They are fond of habitats with edges, hedgerows, overgrown patches, and brushy roadsides. When they are not perched at the highest points emitting their songs, they are often spotted foraging amidst shrubs and grasses abundant with seeds.
  • Range: Very common throughout all of Tennessee, where the right habitat occurs.
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
  • Fun Fact: Indigo buntings are neotropical migrants, traveling thousands of miles between their breeding grounds in North America and their wintering grounds in Central and South America, undertaking remarkable journeys across the continent.

Threats and Conservation

Birds face various threats in their natural habitats, including habitat loss, pollution, climate change, and predation by invasive species. Conservation efforts such as habitat restoration, protected areas establishment, and public awareness campaigns play a crucial role in safeguarding bird populations.

Citizen Science

Citizen science initiatives like eBird provide valuable data on bird populations, distribution, and behaviors, enabling researchers and conservationists to better understand and protect bird species. By participating in bird monitoring programs and submitting observations, bird enthusiasts contribute to scientific research and conservation efforts.

Vote!

Conclusion

Tennessee’s diverse habitats host a rich array of bird species, from herons to warblers. By appreciating and protecting these species, we can ensure that future generations continue to marvel at the beauty and wonder of Tennessee’s birdlife.