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16 Blue Birds in Utah

blue birds in utah
Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay in Washington, Utah: Photo credit to Pitta Tours

Introduction

From shimmering swallows swirling over fields to regal herons wading wetland waters, a variety of vivid blue-hued birds make their homes in Utah. Their azure tones stand out brilliantly against red rock cliffs and desert skies. Let’s explore some of the top blue birds gracing the Beehive State.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

  • Features: Largest heron in North America with blue-gray plumage, long neck, dagger-like bill, and plume projecting from head. Slow deep wingbeats. 
  • Locations: Year-round resident along Utah’s wetlands, rivers, lakes, ponds. Stalks shorelines hunting fish, frogs, small prey. 
  • Fun Fact: Nests high in trees in large colonies called heronries, often reusing the same site annually. Young utter raspy calls from nest. 

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)

  • Features: Stocky icy-blue body with shaggy crest. Females have rusty band across belly. Large head with dagger-like bill.
  • Locations: Found year-round near waterbodies statewide. Perches over streams and lakes diving for fish. 
  • Fun Fact: Excavates nesting tunnels up to 15 feet deep into riverbanks. Parents take turns feeding fish to noisy chicks. 

Pinyon Jay (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus)

  • Features: Medium-sized jay with blue head, wings, tail. Gray breast and belly. Pointed crest. Known for flocking habits. 
  • Locations: Year-round resident of pine forests and woodlands of Utah’s mountains and foothills. 
  • Fun Fact: Nests colonially with pairs cooperating in nest construction and feeding young. Caches thousands of pinyon pine seeds.

Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri

  • Features: Crested jay with deep blue head, wings, and tail contrasting with black body. Long legs adapted for foraging.
  • Locations: Year-round resident of coniferous mountain forests across Utah. Visits campgrounds and yards.
  • Fun Fact: Omnivorous, eating acorns, seeds, fruits, small vertebrates. Intelligent and curious. Mimics calls of other species. 

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

  • Features: Crested blue, black, and white jay with blue crest, wings, and tail. Black necklace across throat. Loud forceful calls. 
  • Locations: Found year-round in Utah’s deciduous forests, woodlots, parks, and residential areas with trees. 
  • Fun Fact: Omnivorous food like acorns, insects, eggs, grains. Known for intelligence and mimicry skills. Form long-term pair bonds.

Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii

  • Features: Blue crestless jay with pale blue-gray neck and gray-brown back. White forehead. Slender bill. 
  • Locations: Arid pine-oak canyons and scrublands of Utah year-round. Nest in dense thickets.  
  • Fun Fact: Forages on ground for insects and pine nuts. Forms small loose flocks in non-breeding season. Territorial pairs defend nests.

Black-billed Magpie (Pica hudsonia)

  • Features: Large long-tailed corvid with black plumage flashing iridescent blue-green in sunlight. White belly. Shaggier tail than similar yellow-billed magpie. 
  • Locations: Year-round resident of wooded areas across Utah. Nests high in dense trees. Forages in small groups on ground. 
  • Fun Fact: Omnivorous and opportunistic. Bold and inquisitive. Builds large domed nest decorated with mud and shed snake skins.

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor

  • Features: Iridescent dark blue-green back and wings, white belly. Long pointed wings, short legs. Floating, gliding flight.
  • Locations: Summers in open areas across Utah, especially wetlands. Winters along tropical coasts. Cavity nester using birdhouses.
  • Fun Fact: Aerial insectivore that catches flying prey like flies, mosquitoes, bees. Nest defense deters intruders by dive bombing.

Purple Martin (Progne subis)

  • Features: Largest North American swallow. Dark blue-black plumage with sheen. Forked tail. Graceful aerialist. 
  • Locations: Summers in open areas statewide. Nests in colonies using artificial multi-unit houses. Winters in South America.
  • Fun Fact: Feeds on flying insects like dragonflies. Males arrive first to claim prime nesting cavities. Young utter musical chirping calls.

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

  • Features: Dark steely blue upperparts, pale underparts, deeply forked tail. Flying insects make up its entire diet. 
  • Locations: Nests under bridges, cliffs, and buildings statewide. Migrates to Central and South America.  
  • Fun Fact: Builds cup-shaped mud nests on vertical surfaces. Males with longer tail streamers preferred by females.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)

  • Features: Tiny blue-gray songbird with thin bill, white eye-ring, and long white-edged tail. Almost constantly in motion. 
  • Locations: Summer breeder in semi-open woods and scrub statewide. Winters along tropical coastlines. 
  • Fun Fact: Forages actively in trees for insects like beetles, moths, ants, bees. Song a distinctive mewing mayerr call. 

Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana

  • Features: Medium-sized thrush with brilliant blue upperparts, rusty breast/flanks, gray belly. Perches conspicuously. 
  • Locations: Year-round resident in open country, burns, oak savannas. Requires cavities for nesting.  
  • Fun Fact: Male western bluebirds help feed nestlings and defend territory. Mostly eats insects but also berries.

Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides)

  • Features: Thin pointed bill. Sky blue upperparts (males) or gray-blue (females). Orange breasts. White bellies.
  • Locations: Summers in Utah’s high elevation meadows. Winters at lower elevations. Nest in cavities.
  • Fun Fact: Male mountain bluebirds help feed nestlings. Floating display flight to show plumage during courtship.

Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea)

  • Features: Large finch with big bill. Males have deep blue bodies, females are brown. White wing bars in flight.
  • Locations: Nests in shrublands statewide in summer. Winters along Mexico’s Pacific coast.  
  • Fun Fact: Sings rich, warbling song like an American robin. Fond of sunflower seeds, corn. Nests low in shrubs.

Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena)

  • Features: Sparrow-sized with conical bill. Males bright blue above with rusty breast band. Females streaked brown. 
  • Locations: Breeds in shrublands and woodland edges. Winters in Mexico. 
  • Fun Fact: Namesake song starts with paired phrases, “Lazy, lazy, lazy, pair.” Sometimes hybridizes with the indigo bunting.

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea

  • Features: Small seed-eating finch. Vibrant blue males in summer, females plain brown. White wing patches in flight.
  • Locations: Breeds in summer along brushy field edges, hedgerows, and open woodlands statewide.   
  • Fun Fact: Sings brief song consisting of paired notes. Favors seeds from grasses and forbs in winter. Forms loose migratory flocks.

Threats and Conservation

Habitat loss poses significant threats, as development degrades wetlands, forests, and shrublands required by various species. Pesticides reduce insect prey populations critical for aerial feeders. Climate change may alter suitable ranges and prey abundance. Predation by invasive species impacts native birds. 

Protecting a diversity of habitat types through parks, reserves, and appropriate development patterns provides essential breeding and migratory stopover areas. Reducing use of pesticides and chemicals leaves more insects. Bird-friendly architecture prevents collisions. Keeping pet cats indoors protects wildlife. Support for international conservation helps migrants.

Citizen Science

Utah birders contribute vitally:

  • eBird sightings provide valuable data on species distributions, hotspots, and population trends.
  • Nest box trails for cavity nesters like bluebirds allow tracking productivity and expanding populations through increased nest sites. 
  • Banding and tracking programs reveal migration routes and timing, survivorship, and habitat connectivity needs.
  • Backyard bird surveys engage citizens in data collection while connecting to nature nearby.
  • Outreach programs inspire future generations to appreciate and protect local birds.

Conclusion

From wetland waders to soaring swallows, Utah’s blue birds brighten every habitat. Protecting fragile environments and monitoring populations will ensure these azure beauties persist from mountain forests to desert skies.