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13 Blue Birds in Washington State

blue birds in washington state
Mountain Bluebird in Kittitas, Washington: Photo by Nathan Wall

Introduction

The lush landscapes of Washington State offer not just diverse terrains, but also a rich tapestry of bird species that adorn the skies, fields, and forests. Among them, blue birds stand out with their vivid plumage, painting a picturesque scene against the state’s green backdrops. This guide takes you on a journey through Washington’s azure avian wonders, diving deep into their features, habitats, and the science behind their stunning blue hue.

The Mystery of the Hue

Unlike many colors that birds flaunt, blue isn’t a pigment derived from their diet. Instead, the blue we perceive in birds like the western bluebird or indigo bunting is due to the way the structure of their feathers refracts and scatters light. The feathers of blue birds have microscopic structures that scatter incoming light, reflecting primarily blue light to our eyes. It’s a play of physics and biology that results in the spectacular shades of blue we admire. This structural coloration, coupled with specific behaviors and habitats, often plays a role in mating displays and camouflage.

Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana)

  • Features: The male western bluebird boasts a striking azure hue, especially vibrant on its head and upper back, which harmonizes elegantly with its russet chest and throat. Females display a softer touch, characterized by a gray-blue on their wings and tail. These graceful creatures frequently perch low, sweeping down in agile, direct flights to seize insects.
  • Locations: Open woodlands, especially in the eastern parts of the state.
  • Fun Fact: Their diet shifts with the seasons – insects in the summer and berries during winter.

Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides)

  • Features: Males stand out with their luminous light blue plumage, looking almost celestial against contrasting landscapes. In contrast, females adopt a muted palette of gray with hints of blue. Typically perched on high vantage points, they keenly observe the ground, ready to dive for prey.
  • Locations: Open fields in areas like the North Cascades National Park.
  • Fun Fact: They hover over the ground when hunting insects.

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)

  • Features: Glittering with a blue-green sheen on their upperparts, tree swallows present a vivid contrast with their pristine white underbellies. These swift fliers are often seen gracefully chasing after airborne insects, their iridescent bodies painting arcs of color in the sky.
  • Locations: Wet areas like ponds in Walla Walla Valley.
  • Fun Fact: They’re known for their acrobatic flight maneuvers.

Purple Martin (Progne subis)

  • Features: Males are a dark, glossy purple-blue, almost appearing black from a distance, while females are duller with a gray chest and throat. These largest North American swallows are agile fliers, often seen zipping over water bodies capturing insects mid-air. Their chatter-filled colonies in man-made structures or natural cavities are hard to miss during the breeding season.
  • Locations: Near water bodies across Washington, particularly around the Puget Sound region.
  • Fun Fact: In the East, they primarily nest in provided birdhouses, but in the West, they often use natural tree cavities.

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

  • Features: The barn swallow possesses a steel-blue upper body, a burnt-orange forehead, and a pale underbelly. Their long, forked tail and streamlined body make them adept aerialists, and they’re often observed in a swift, graceful flight. Their mud-constructed nests are commonly found on human-made structures, making them one of the most familiar swallows in the region.
  • Locations: Almost everywhere across Washington, from farms to urban areas.
  • Fun Fact: They have a mutualistic relationship with humans; their presence near our habitats helps control insect populations.

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)

  • Features: The belted kingfisher is easily identifiable with its blue-gray plumage, signature bushy crest, and stark white collar. Its robust bill is perfectly evolved for fishing. Both male and female exhibit a belt across their chests, though the female’s is rust-colored, adding a dash of unique coloration absent in males.
  • Locations: Found by water bodies, especially around Puget Sound.
  • Fun Fact: An extraordinary burrower, it digs nesting tunnels into earthen banks.

Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena)

  • Features: These small songbirds dazzle with their cerulean blue heads, back, and contrasting white bellies. The wings of both males and females have a touch of warm cinnamon, adding to their allure. When the sun hits just right, their plumage can shine like a gem.
  • Locations: Brushy areas and woodlands around Spokane.
  • Fun Fact: During courtship, males use their vibrant colors and high-pitched songs to woo females.

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)

  • Features: When the light hits the indigo bunting’s feathers, the bird shines in brilliant shades of blue, making it a visual treat. Females and juveniles sport a more muted brown, with occasional hints of blue. Their sweet melodies add an auditory charm to their presence.
  • Locations: Found mainly in the eastern parts, particularly the Palouse region.
  • Fun Fact: Star patterns guide their nocturnal migrations.

California Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma californica)

  • Features: Boasting a vivid blue head, wings, and tail, the scrub jay offers a compelling contrast with its gray-brown back and grayish-white belly. These intelligent birds have a curious nature, often exploring human habitats and foraging for diverse foods.
  • Locations: They love the dry habitats of eastern Washington.
  • Fun Fact: With their remarkable memory, they store food in the ground and can retrieve it much later.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

  • Features: The blue jay is unmistakable with its vibrant blue upperparts, accented by the black necklace that wraps around their throat and head, and their striking white underparts. Their crest, which can be raised or lowered, adds a distinctive touch to their appearance. These intelligent birds are known for their varied vocalizations and the ability to mimic certain raptors. Their diet consists of nuts, seeds, insects, and occasionally small vertebrates.
  • Locations: Although predominantly an eastern and central species, blue jays have been spotted in Washington, particularly in the eastern parts of the state.
  • Fun Fact: Blue jays play a crucial role in the propagation of oak trees, as they hoard acorns—often not retrieving them—leading to the growth of new trees.

Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)

  • Features: With its assertive crest and mix of profound blue and black patterns, the Steller’s jay captivates observers. Its vocal nature and talent for mimicking other bird calls adds a unique flavor to its persona. Often dubbed the forest’s sentinel, its loud calls serve as alarms against intruders.
  • Locations: Forested areas in regions like Olympic National Park.
  • Fun Fact: Steller’s jays use mud to construct their nests.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)

  • Features: Their blue-gray plumage, combined with a long black tail edged in white, makes them stand out. Though small, their constant movements and high-pitched calls make them noticeable. They flit energetically through the trees, often flicking their tails as they go.
  • Locations: Found in wooded habitats, particularly in parts of eastern Washington.
  • Fun Fact: Their northern populations tend to have more varied songs than their southern counterparts.

Black-throated Blue Warbler (Setophaga caerulescens)

  • Features: The males are striking with their deep blue upperparts, black faces, and white underbellies. Females don a more olive-green hue but still retain hints of blue on their wings and tail.
  • Locations: Although rare in Washington, they’re occasionally spotted during migration periods.
  • Fun Fact: Males and females utilize different habitats during the winter, with males in forests and females in shrubby areas.

Conservation

The mesmerizing blue birds in Washington state, like many species worldwide, face threats ranging from habitat loss to pollution. Protecting them requires collective action:

1. Preserve Habitats: Protecting and restoring habitats is crucial. Land conservation initiatives, like setting aside bird sanctuaries or natural reserves, can ensure they have safe breeding and feeding grounds.

2. Limit Pesticides: Many blue birds feed on insects. Reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides can ensure they have a healthy diet and prevent potential poisoning.

3. Support Bird-friendly Legislation: Be aware of and support local, state, and national policies that aim to protect bird populations and their habitats.

4. Safe Bird-watching: If observing these birds in their natural habitat, maintain a respectful distance. Avoid any actions that might disrupt their routines, especially during nesting season.

5. Education and Awareness: Spread the word about these beautiful blue-hued birds. The more people know about them, the better the chances of collaborative conservation efforts.

By combining efforts at both individual and community levels, we can ensure that the skies and woods of Washington continue to shimmer in shades of blue for generations to come.

Conclusion

By following these guidelines and taking proactive measures, we can foster a thriving environment for blue birds in Washington state. From advocating for bird-friendly legislation to promoting education and awareness, our collective efforts can help safeguard their habitats and ensure their preservation. The Great Washington State Birding Trail offers a wonderful opportunity to explore and appreciate these magnificent birds in their natural habitats, further igniting our passion for their conservation. Let us join hands and work together to protect and cherish the blue birds of Washington state for future generations.