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13 Blue Birds in Oregon

blue birds in oregon
California Scrub Jay in Lane, Oregon: Photo by Mason Maron

Introduction

From soaring great blue herons along coastal estuaries to mountain bluebirds gracing high-elevation meadows, there’s a variety of blue birds in Oregon. Their cool azure tones stand out beautifully against backdrops of forest, field, and mountain. Let’s explore some of Oregon’s top blue birds.

Mountain Quail (Oreortyx pictus

  • Features: These quail have gray bodies with small heads and short tails. Their underparts are brown, scalloped with white, and males have a brown throat with purple-blue markings. They make loud crowing and chuckling vocalizations.
  • Locations: Found west of the Cascades in mountain forests with dense undergrowth. 
  • Fun Fact: They build ground nests called skyscrapers that may be up to three feet tall out of grass and sticks.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

  • Features: This large wading bird has blue-gray body plumage, a white facial stripe, and decorative plumes projecting from the head during breeding season. Slow, patient hunting style.  
  • Locations: Found year-round along Oregon’s lakes, rivers, estuaries and other wetlands. Nests high in trees.
  • Fun Fact: Walks steadily through shallow water hunting for fish, frogs, and other prey or waits statue-still for passing food. 

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)  

  • Features: This stocky bird has a shaggy crest and heavy pointed bill. Females have a rusty band across the belly. Unique rattling call.
  • Locations: Found year-round along Oregon’s rivers, lakes, estuaries and coastlines. 
  • Fun Fact: This kingfisher excavates nesting tunnels up to 15 feet deep into riverbanks and lakeshores.

Pinyon Jay (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus)  

  • Features: Medium sized jay with loud raspy cries. Smoky blue overall with lighter blue throat and dark gray streaks down back. Stout beak for eating pine nuts.  
  • Locations: Found in pine forests in eastern parts of Oregon. Nests colonially in pine trees. 
  • Fun Fact: Makes “cache” stores of hundreds of pine nuts by embedding them in soft soil for later recovery.

Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)  

  • Features: Large, crested jay with black head, bright blue wings, tail and body and dark gray back. Omnivorous habits. Sometimes aggressive.
  • Locations: Found in conifer and mixed forests west of the Cascades in Oregon.   
  • Fun Fact: Intelligent birds that sometimes mimic calls of other species. They make a variety of clicking sounds within groups.

California Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma californica)   

  • Features: Gray and blue medium-sized jay with lighter throat and brighter blue above eye, with a darker bib at breast and long tail.  Omnivorous generalist. 
  • Locations: Found in oak woodlands and chaparral west of the Cascades. 
  • Fun Fact: Makes a harsh scratchy “shreeaa” call. They sometimes bury food items like acorns to save for later. 

Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia)  

  • Features: Large black and white corvid with dark, iridescent plumage showing blue, purple and green tones in the sunlight. White shoulder patches. Long tail with white tips. Red eyes.  
  • Locations: Found west of the Cascades near meadows, pastures and riparian areas with scattered trees. 
  • Fun Fact: Builds a dome-shaped nest high in a bush or tree constructed of thorny twigs, grasses and mud. 

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)

  • Features: Dark blue iridescent plumage on the back contrasts white underparts. In flight shows pointed wings and forked tail, adaptations for aerial maneuvering to catch insects.
  • Locations: Found nesting readily in boxes and natural cavities near open water across Oregon. Winters in warmer climates.
  • Fun Fact: Males attract females by calling while flying in exaggerated zigzags low over water. Recently expanded range westward.

Purple Martin (Progne subis)  

  • Features: Largest North American swallow, dark blue overall with paler gray underparts. Swift graceful flight with aerobatic twists and turns. Nest colonially in apartment houses or gourds.
  • Locations: Summer breeding resident across Oregon. Requires open areas near water bodies. 
  • Fun Fact: Male purple martins arrive early on breeding grounds to claim the most attractive nesting cavities to attract females.

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)   

  • Features: Steel-blue upperparts, pale underside, and deeply forked tail. Tail shape gives great aerial maneuverability when catching flying insects on the wing.
  • Locations: Found summering across Oregon, nesting in barns and under bridges. Migrates out of the state in winter. 
  • Fun Fact: Both male and female construct nests, sculpting mud pellets to make a cup fixed to vertical walls or beams. 

Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana)  

  • Features: Male western bluebirds have deep blue wings and head, rusty chestnut breast, and gray throat and belly. Female has gray-blue wings and tail with paler throat. 
  • Locations: Found year-round in open country such as meadows, fields, and open ponderosa pine forests across Oregon.
  • Fun Fact: Readily takes to nest boxes, allowing for easy monitoring. Male western bluebirds feed the female while she incubates the eggs.

Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides)   

  • Features: Male has bright turquoise blue wings and tail, lighter blue throat, and gray chest and flanks. Female mostly gray overall with hints of blue in wings and tail.  
  • Locations: Found in meadows, grasslands, open mountain forests, golf courses and ranches east of the Cascades. Winters at lower elevations.
  • Fun Fact: Hunts for insects like grasshoppers from low perches such as fences and utility lines or catches them on the wing. 

Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena)  

  • Features: Small chunky seed-eating finch with conical bill. Males are brilliant blue with rusty wing bars. Females mostly brown with white wing bars.
  • Locations: Found breeding in sagebrush, thickets, and open woodlands across Oregon. Winters in Mexico south to Panama.  
  • Fun Fact: Dark gray streaking helps camouflage females. Blue color in males comes from feather structure, not pigment.

Threats and Conservation   

Habitat degradation, collisions, window strikes and climate change pressures threaten blue bird populations. Protecting migratory stopovers and high-quality breeding areas can provide essential nesting and foraging grounds. Citizen science tracking also informs management. Installing bird-friendly architecture helps reduce mortality. Focusing conservation attention on rapidly declining species can help stabilize at-risk populations.

Citizen Science Opportunities

Oregon birders make valuable contributions to knowledge and conservation of blue birds through:

  • Uploading checklists to eBird to track populations over time and inform management decisions
  • Participating in breeding bird atlasing projects to map nesting distributions
  • Building and monitoring nest boxes, providing critical breeding data
  • Banding birds to understand migratory routes and survival rates
  • Conducting seasonal bird counts to tally populations
  • Community outreach and education programs to inspire future conservationists

Citizen scientist volunteers play a pivotal role by collecting important long-term monitoring data on population trends, breeding success, winter ranges, and migration timing. These efforts contribute significantly to knowledge and conservation of Oregon’s blue birds.

Conclusion

From tiny tree swallows to regal great blue herons, Oregon’s blue-hued birds showcase dazzling diversity across habitats statewide. Safeguarding ecosystems through habitat protections and monitoring ensures future generations can continue marveling at their beauty.

(Read some of our articles on blue birds in other states, including Ohio and Arizona!)