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14 Blue Birds in North Carolina

blue birds in north carolina
Cerulean Warbler in Buncombe, North Carolina: Photo by Herbert Fechter

Introduction

From majestic great blue herons stalking coastal marshes to tiny cerulean warblers flitting through mountaintop pines, there are many blue birds in North Carolina. These cool-toned species contribute ample splashes of color against backdrops of forest, field, and waterway. Let’s explore some top blue birds at home across North Carolina’s varied habitats.

Jump to a species!

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea 

  • Features: This petite heron reaches just over two feet tall with slate-blue feathers, maroon-reddish head and neck, greenish legs, and thick dagger-like bill. Juveniles appear all white. A patient hunter, it stands motionless waiting for small fish, frogs, and insects to pass by in the water below. 
  • Locations: Found year-round foraging in fresh and saltwater wetlands across North Carolina. Winters as far south as Central America.  
  • Fun Fact: More solitary nester than other herons. Male selects nest site in trees or shrubs, but female does most construction. 

Tricolored Heron (Egretta tricolor)  

  • Features: This trim heron stands at two feet tall and shows white belly, rufous neck and wings in breeding season. The long, slim yellow bill is perfectly adapted for spearing small prey. Light blue-gray back contrasts white plumes during courtship.  
  • Locations: Found year-round in coastal and inland wetlands across North Carolina hunting crustaceans, fish, insects, small amphibians and reptiles.
  • Fun Fact: Sometimes uses bait to attract prey by dropping food items, waiting to ambush attracted fish. 

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)  

  • Features: This statuesque bird reaches four feet tall with powdery blue-gray plumage, smooth purple-gray legs, and long billowing plumes during breeding season. Slow yet graceful when wading through marshes. 
  • Locations: Found year-round across North Carolina wetlands as well as meadows and shorelines when foraging. Usually nests colonially in high branches over water. 
  • Fun Fact: Diet composed primarily of small fish, but also amphibians, reptiles, rodents, insects and rarely baby birds nesting near its own.  

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon 

  • Features: This stocky bird reaches 13 inches long with ragged crest feathers and dense blue plumage on head, back and chest trailing to white underneath. Female sports a rusty band across her abdomen. Large head and shaggy crest offsets a thick pointed bill.  Call is a harsh rattling cry. 
  • Locations: Found year round residing along the North Carolina coastline and inland waters from small streams to large lakes. Aggregates in loose winter flocks.
  • Fun Fact: This kingfisher excavates nesting tunnels up to 15 feet deep into exposed riverbanks composed of sand or clay. 

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)  

  • Features: This songbird is crested with deep blue wings and tail contrasted by lighter blue highlights on the head, back and chest.  Black necklaces across the throat with white and blue bands underneath. White and black spotted markings on wings visible in flight.  
  • Locations: Found year-round across North Carolina from mountain elevations to coastal forests. Favors those with mix of pine and oak as well as parks and suburban areas with feeders. 
  • Fun Fact: Highly intelligent, sometimes aggressive and noisy. Mate pairs typically bond for life. 

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)   

  • Features: In flight shows deeply forked tail, curved tapered wings, and lovely irridescent dark blue upperparts contrasting pristine white breast. Adapted for aerial maneuverability catching flying insects. Perching shows tiny feet poorly suited for walking. Cool temperatures trigger communal sheltered roosting.
  • Locations: Found breeding in scattered open woods and meadows across North Carolina near bodies of water like beaver ponds. Most winter in the Neotropics.  
  • Fun Fact: Readily accepts manmade nest boxes often made with waterproofed wood, plastic pipes or metal containers.  

Purple Martin (Progne subis)  

  • Features: Largest North American swallow with dark indigo iridescent plumage. Underparts can be a slightly paler pewter gray. Small red area at base of bill. Long wings with dark tips help identify while soaring.  
  • Locations: Summer breeding visitor across North Carolina. Nests in bird houses in open areas and forages aerially for insects often over waterways. Winters in South America. 
  • Fun Fact: Social, often forming loose flocks. Males select the nest hollow site, with the best locations garnering the most mates.  

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)  

  • Features: Lean profile with steely blue upperparts contrasting pale sandy colored forehead, throat and underside. Tail is extremely long, flared, and deeply forked. Swift graceful flight catching flying insects.   
  • Locations: Summers widely across North Carolina, breeding in cavities of all shapes and sizes including artificial barn rafters. Most winter in South America aside from the southernmost tip.   
  • Fun Fact: Mud cup nest attached to vertical wall surface composed of 1,000+ pellets requiring a whole lot of trips carrying globs of mud in bill tips.  

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)  

  • Features: A petite powdery blue-gray songbird with thin pointed bill and long white-edged tail. Black mask through eyes and across crown feathers. Compact size allows access to tree canopies inaccessible to larger birds. Males utter their signature buzzy, insect-like mating call.
  • Locations: Breeds widespread across North Carolina in forest and woodland interiors, scrubby areas and mangroves. More coastal areas provide winter habitat aside from the southernmost tip.
  • Fun Fact: Pennsylvania saw its first documented breeding pair in 2022 as changing climate has forced the species to expand its range north over time. 

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)  

  • Features: Thrush with brilliant sky blue upperparts contrasting warm rusty-orange on throat and breast before fading to white underneath. Females are grayish blue with more subdued orange hue below. 
  • Locations: Seen year-round across North Carolina’s open country habitats including meadows, pastures, pine barrens, parks and golf courses interspersed with mature trees featuring cavities for nesting and perching.
  • Fun Fact: Male and female work together building their nest inside a tree hollow often formerly created by woodpeckers, or making use of nest boxes. 

Cerulean Warbler (Setophaga cerulea)   

  • Features: The breeding male has light blue upperparts with thin black necklaces and white wing bars contrasting overall white underparts. Females and juveniles show muted blue-green above with indistinct streaking below. Both share dark streaking through face. 
  • Locations: Breeds across mature broad-leafed Appalachian forests in western North Carolina. Require tall mature canopy most commonly provided by oak, poplar and maple trees. Winters in Andean regions of South America.   
  • Fun Fact: Despite inhabiting remote mountain breeding habitat, still faces severe threats from habitat fragmentation and deforestation leading to an over 70% population decline since 1966.

Black-throated Blue Warbler (Setophaga caerulescens)   

  • Features: This small warbler shows brilliant blue wings, crown and nape offset by boldly contrasting black throat and gray belly. Females boast a duller olive cast above and lighter white throat and face. 
  • Locations: Breeding grounds in mature temperate forests across North Carolina before migrating offshore to Caribbean Islands for winter.  
  • Fun Fact: The male’s buzzy courtship song “zoo zee zoo zo zee” rings through the deciduous and mixed forests attracting a mate. 

Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea)   

  • Features: One of North Carolina’s bigger songbirds with a thick conical bill. Shows deep cobalt blue plumage from bill to tail contrasting cinnamon wing bars. Females display mostly brown muted upperparts with lighter underparts. Both sexes have streaky markings.
  • Locations: Found breeding statewide across overgrown fields, forest clearings, scrubby successional growth and similar open habitat interspersed with small trees and bushes. Most winter in the Caribbean and areas of Central America. 
  • Fun Fact: The rich, bold breeding season male’s song sounds similar to an American robin but more melodious and less clipped.

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)  

  • Features: Small petite finch reaching only five inches long with short conical seed-cracking bill. Brilliant cerulean males. Mostly chocolate brown streaked females. Both have obvious white wing bars visible during flight. Male singing voice rings metallic and high-pitched. 
  • Locations: Breeding grounds across weedy fields, brushy fencerows and open woodland edges statewide. Winters as far south as Panama.  
  • Fun Fact: Pigment has nothing to do with the male’s dazzling “indigo” hues. Rather, the effect comes from the feather structure causing iridescence by refracting specialized wavelengths found in UV light.

Threats and Conservation

Habitat degradation threatens prime breeding areas across forests, fields and wetlands. Pesticides reduce insect food supplies critical for nestlings. Collisions with human structures and vehicles takes a toll and invasive species can displace native birds (those darn starlings). Careful stewardship of habitats and bird-friendly architecture can reduce impacts.   

Citizen Science Opportunities

North Carolina birders make valuable contributions:

  • Tracking bird populations and trends by submitting to eBird and other databases to inform conservation decisions.
  • Participating in breeding bird atlases mapping species ranges across the state.
  • Building nest boxes and monitoring reproduction, providing key data to enhance success.
  • Banding birds to understand migratory routes, life events, demography.
  • Conducting seasonal bird counts like the Christmas Bird Count tallying wintering populations.
  • Community outreach and education inspiring the next generation of naturalists.

Citizen scientists from bird clubs, Audubon chapters and independent enthusiasts play a pivotal role gathering long-term data that guides meaningful protections for North Carolina’s avifauna. By pooling our observations as concerned stewards, we sustain the legacy of these blue treasures.

Vote!

Conclusion

From stealthy herons to stunning warblers, the blue birds in North Carolina flourish year-round for the enjoyment of all. Protecting essential ecosystems needed to sustain healthy wild populations will ensure they continue gracing North Carolina for generations to come.