Skip to Content

17 Blue Birds in Arizona

blue birds in arizona
Mexican Jay in Cochise, Arizona: Photo by Ryan Sanderson

Introduction

From flashy indigo buntings fluttering over grasslands to great blue herons elegantly wading wetland margins, a variety of vivid blue-hued birds make their homes in the Grand Canyon State. Their cool azure tones stand out brilliantly against Arizona’s canvas of forest, desert, and waterways. Let’s explore some of the top blue birds in Arizona.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

  • Features: Largest heron in North America with blue-gray plumage, long neck, dagger-like bill, and head plume. Patient, poised hunting style.
  • Locations: Found year-round along Arizona’s rivers, lakes, marshes, and ponds stalking shorelines. 
  • Fun Fact: Nests colonially, often with other herons. Young utter raspy calls from nests. 

Ringed Kingfisher (Megaceryle torquata)

  • Features: Large kingfisher with shaggy crest. Blue upperparts and breast band. White underparts with blue band across belly.  
  • Locations: Along waterways and lakes across southern Arizona. Perches quietly before plunging for fish. 
  • Fun Fact: Only kingfisher in North America with male and female identical in plumage. Nests in tunnels dug into earthen stream banks.

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon

  • Features: Stocky bird with shaggy crest and thick pointed bill. Females have rusty band across belly. Rattles loudly when flying.
  • Locations: Found year-round near Arizona’s lakes, rivers, streams. 
  • 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, and tail. Gray breast and belly. Pointed crest. Gregarious flocker. 
  • Locations: Ponderosa pine forests year-round across northern Arizona.
  • Fun Fact: Nests colonially with pairs cooperating in nest building and feeding young. Caches over 50,000 pinyon pine seeds per season. 

Steller’s Jay (Cyanocitta stelleri)

  • Features: Crested jay with deep blue head, wings, tail and black body. Long legs adapted for ground foraging. 
  • Locations: Year-round resident of pine and pine-oak forests statewide.  
  • Fun Fact: Omnivorous – consumes acorns, seeds, fruits, small vertebrates. Intelligent, sometimes aggressive. Mimics calls.

Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii)

  • Features: Blue crestless jay with pale blue-gray neck and gray-brown back. Slender bill. White forehead.
  • Locations: Arid pine-oak canyons and scrublands of Arizona year-round.  
  • Fun Fact: Forages on ground for pine nuts and insects. Loose flocks form outside breeding season. Territorial pairs defend nests.

Mexican Jay (Aphelocoma wollweberi)

  • Features: Dark blue and gray jay with lighter blue throat and gray breast. White undertail coverts. Sociable flocker. 
  • Locations: Oak and pine-oak woodlands of southeastern Arizona. 
  • Fun Fact: Trails army ant swarms to snatch insects and arthropods fleeing the ants. Loud, whistling call.

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)

  • Features: Iridescent blue-green back and wings. Long, pointed wings and short legs. Swift graceful flight.
  • Locations: Nests in tree cavities across Arizona. Summers statewide and migrates south in winter.
  • Fun Fact: Hawks insects in flight. Readily accepts nest boxes. Forms huge migratory flocks in fall.

Purple Martin (Progne subis)

  • Features: Largest North American swallow. Dark blue-black with iridescent sheen. Deeply forked tail. Swift acrobatic flight.
  • Locations: Summer breeding visitor across Arizona. Requires open areas near water for nesting colonies.
  • Fun Fact: Arrives early spring with males claiming the best nest cavities first. Females have paler gray underparts.

Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

  • Features: Blue upperparts, cinnamon undertail, deeply forked tail. Graceful flight chasing aerial insects.
  • Locations: Nests under bridges, cliffs, and buildings. Widespread in summer across Arizona.   
  • Fun Fact: Adults feed flying insects to chicks in bowl-shaped mud nests. Forms enormous migratory flocks.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea)

  • Features: Tiny gray-blue songbird with thin bill, white eye-ring, and long white-edged tail. Constantly active. 
  • Locations: Arizona’s open woodlands and scrub. Winters along western Mexico coast. 
  • Fun Fact: Males sing an insect-like high, buzzy song. Forages on branches for tiny insects and spiders. 

Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)

  • Features: Medium-sized thrush with bright blue upperparts, rusty breast and flanks, white belly.
  • Locations: Requires open country with scattered trees and cavities for nesting across Arizona.
  • Fun Fact: Male helps feed nestlings and defend territory. Populations increased with widespread nest box efforts providing cavity sites.

Western Bluebird (Sialia mexicana)

  • Features: Medium-sized thrush with sky blue upperparts, rusty breast and gray belly. Perches conspicuously.
  • Locations: Open country, burns, pine-oak woodlands year-round. Requires cavities for nesting.
  • Fun Fact: Male helps feed nestlings and defend territory. Eats insects and berries. Readily uses nest boxes.

Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides

  • Features: Male has brilliant sky blue upperparts, females are grayer. Orange breast and white belly. 
  • Locations: Summers in Arizona’s high elevation meadows and pine forests. Winters at lower elevations.
  • Fun Fact: Male helps feed nestlings. Floating display flight shows off plumage during courtship. 

Blue Grosbeak (Passerina caerulea)

  • Features: Large finch with big seed-cracking bill. Males have deep blue bodies, females are brown. White wing bars.
  • Locations: Summer breeder in shrubby, overgrown fields and other open habitat statewide. Winters south.
  • Fun Fact: Sings a rich, robin-like warbling song. Fond of sunflower seeds. Fiercely defends nesting territory. 

Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena

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

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)

  • Features: Small seed-eating finch. Vibrant all-blue breeding males, drab brown females. White wing patches. 
  • Locations: Breeds summer along brushy field edges, fence rows, open woodlands. Winters to Central America.
  • Fun Fact: Sings brief song of two paired notes. Forms loose migratory flocks. Closely related to lazuli bunting.

Varied Bunting (Passerina versicolor)

  • Features: Sparrow-sized seed eater. Males purple above, red below, females gray-brown. Stubby conical bill. 
  • Locations: Desert washes, scrub, and arid brushlands of southeast Arizona. Winters to western Mexico.
  • Fun Fact: Sings a hoarse, buzzy song from an open perch. Males display by bowing and spreading tail.

Threats and Conservation

Habitat loss from development, grazing, and agriculture impacts breeding and migratory stopover areas for many species. Pesticides reduce insect prey. Collisions with buildings and vehicles are substantial threats. Climate change alters food webs. Invasive species compete with natives.

Protecting habitat diversity is key – from wetlands and riparian areas to forests, grasslands, and deserts. Implementing bird-friendly architecture reduces collisions. Providing natural food sources supports populations. Keeping cats indoors protects wildlife. Monitoring and conservation along migration routes is also vital. 

Citizen Science

Arizona birders make key contributions:

  • eBird sightings track species distribution, abundance, population trends over time.
  • Nest box programs aid declining cavity nesters like swallows, bluebirds, and purple martins.
  • Banding reveals migratory timing, routes, breeding and wintering sites, and survivorship. 
  • Surveys like Breeding Bird Atlases map current distributions.
  • Workshops build bird ID skills, supporting data quality.
  • Outreach inspires future generations to value birds.

Conclusion

From soaring herons to fluttering buntings, Arizona’s blue birds brighten the state’s diverse ecosystems. Protecting fragile environments and tracking populations will ensure these azure aviators keep the skies vibrant for generations to come.