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10 Blue Birds in Pennsylvania

blue birds in Pennsylvania
Cerulean Warbler in Huntingdon, Pennsylvania: Photo by Matthew Schenck

Introduction

From deep indigo to sky blue, blue birds (not just bluebirds) are a welcome sight in the woodlands and thickets of Pennsylvania. The state’s mix of forests, wetlands, and scrubby meadows attracts a diversity of species who add their beauty to backyards and parks across the Keystone State. In this article we’ll highlight some of the most brilliant blue birds found in Pennsylvania and prime spots to see them.

Great Blue Heron – Ardea herodias

  • Features: The great blue heron is easily recognizable by its tall, sleek frame. It features a predominantly blue-gray plumage, accentuated by a strikingly white face and a pair of black plumes extending from above its eye to behind its neck. This bird also sports a powerful yellow beak, ideally suited for catching prey, and long, sinewy legs that enable it to wade through shallow waters.
  • Where to Find Them: In Pennsylvania, great blues can frequently be spotted in a variety of aquatic habitats including rivers, marshes, ponds, and lake edges. Renowned places for bird watching like the Presque Isle State Park, Moraine State Park, and the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge are some of the places where you might spot these birds wading in search of a meal.
  • Fun Fact: When hunting, they stand motionless, blending in with the surroundings and striking swiftly to catch their prey, which ranges from fish to small mammals. Interestingly, they have been known to hunt cooperatively, forming semi-circular groups to herd fish into shallow waters where they can easily catch them. 

Belted Kingfisher – Megaceryle alcyon

  • Features: The belted kingfisher is known for its distinctive appearance featuring a blue-gray plumage, sharply contrasted by white underparts and a noticeable shaggy crest on its head. Males have a single grayish-blue band across their white chest while females boast an additional rust-colored band, making them more colorful than their male counterparts. These birds have stout bodies and large heads, which give them a somewhat top-heavy appearance. Their strong, pointed bills are well-suited to their fishing lifestyle.
  • Where to Find Them: In Pennsylvania, belted kingfishers can be found near various water bodies including rivers, streams, lakes, and estuaries. These environments provide ample opportunities for them to hunt their primary diet of fish. Some popular spots for sighting these birds in the state might include the Presque Isle State Park, the wetlands of the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge at Tinicum, or along the many rivers crisscrossing the region.
  • Fun Fact: The belted kingfisher has a unique hunting technique. They often perch on a high vantage point overlooking the water and dive headfirst to catch prey spotted from above. Their excellent vision, including binocular vision, helps them judge the distance to their prey accurately, making them successful hunters. 

Eastern Bluebird – Sialia sialis

  • Features: Eastern bluebirds are a sight to behold in Pennsylvania and beyond. Where I’ve seen them most, down in Georgia, they mark the beginning of spring! Males proudly display a bright blue head and back, contrasted by a rich rust-red throat and chest. Females have a more subdued color palette, with soft gray-blue feathers and a subtle rust-hue on their chest. Their rounded body and small, straight bill are characteristic features, aiding them in their predominantly insectivorous diet.
  • Where to Find Them: In Pennsylvania, eastern bluebirds are typically found in open countryside areas adorned with sparse woodlands, farmlands, and gardens. They prefer habitats with a mixture of open spaces and mature trees which provide them with natural nesting cavities. These birds are often seen in state parks, game lands, and nature reserves where they can find suitable nesting sites and an abundant food supply. 
  • Fun Fact: Eastern bluebirds have a remarkable ability for spotting their prey from a considerable distance, thanks to their excellent vision. They can identify tiny insects from a distance of up to 60 feet away! 

Mountain Bluebird – Sialia currucoides

  • Features: Mountain bluebirds have blue plumage, especially prominent in males, which is brighter compared to the females’ subtler gray-blue tones. They have a slender profile with a slightly rounded head and thin bill. 
  • Where to Find Them: In Pennsylvania, although not commonly found, they might be spotted during their migration periods. These birds primarily live in the open mountains and alpine meadows of the western United States. In Pennsylvania, you could potentially spot them in open fields and mountainous areas during migration, though it would be a rare sighting – there have only been a few hundred records of this bird in PA, which may sound like a lot but given the long history of birding in the northeast, well, it’s not a huge number.
  • Fun Fact: The mountain bluebird is known as a beneficial bird due to its diet that predominantly consists of insects, many of which are considered pests. 

Cerulean Warbler – Setophaga cerulea

  • Features: The cerulean warbler is a small songbird with its sky-blue upperparts and white underparts, adorned with streaks of black on the males. The females have a more subdued color palette, featuring a blend of blue and green tones with similar streaking. 
  • Where to Find Them: In Pennsylvania, these warblers are found in mature deciduous forests, especially along the river corridors where there is a rich supply of insects for them to feed on. They predominantly nest in the canopy, making them a bit challenging to spot. The best places to find them in Pennsylvania would be in areas with large, uninterrupted tracts of woodland, such as the Allegheny National Forest or the lush regions of the Appalachian Mountains.
  • Fun Fact: The cerulean warbler undertakes a long migratory journey every year, traveling from North America to South America. Their migratory routes take them across the Gulf of Mexico, showcasing an incredible feat of endurance. 

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea

  • Features: Blue-gray gnatcatchers are small, agile birds with a slender appearance. They are predominantly covered in a soft blue-gray plumage, which gives them their name. One of their distinguishing features is their prominent white eye-ring and a long tail adorned with white outer feathers. These birds are known for their incessant movements and a distinctive, buzzing call that can often be heard when they are nearby.
  • Where to Find Them: In Pennsylvania, you can find blue-gray gnatcatchers in a variety of wooded habitats. These birds prefer deciduous forests and woodland edges where they can be seen flitting tirelessly from branch to branch in search of insects. Places like Ricketts Glen State Park, Allegheny National Forest, and Valley Forge National Historical Park are good spots to observe these birds.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their diminutive size, blue-gray gnatcatchers are known to be highly territorial. They are often seen chasing away much larger birds that venture too close to their nests. 

Tree Swallow – Tachycineta bicolor

  • Features: The tree swallow is noted for its sleek and agile form, with a prominent iridescent blue-green upperpart that contrasts dramatically with its pristine white underparts. They have a graceful flight pattern with swift, fluid movements. 
  • Where to Find Them: In Pennsylvania, tree swallows are a common sight, especially during the breeding season. They predominantly favor areas near water bodies, such as wetlands, marshes, and lakes. They can be found nesting in tree cavities or nest boxes placed in suitable habitats. 
  • Fun Fact: They have a unique diet among swallows, as they can subsist on plant matter during non-breeding seasons, a trait not commonly observed in other swallow species.

Barn Swallow – Hirundo rustica

  • Features: The barn swallow has a sleek, streamlined body and a deeply forked tail. Its upperparts are a glossy steel-blue, while the underparts exhibit a warm rusty-orange hue. The face has a distinct dusky throat patch, setting it apart from other swallow species.
  • Where to Find Them: In Pennsylvania, barn swallows are commonly found during the breeding season. They have a preference for open habitats and are often seen around farms, fields, and other man-made structures. True to their name, they frequently build mud nests on eaves, rafters, and other ledges of barns and sheds.
  • Fun Fact: Barn swallows are one of the most widespread species of swallow in the world, found on every continent except Antarctica! Their migratory patterns are impressive, often covering thousands of miles between breeding and wintering grounds.

Indigo Bunting – Passerina cyanea

  • Features: The indigo bunting is a small, migratory songbird with vibrant, almost fluorescent, blue plumage, especially in males during the breeding season. The females, however, are more understated, showcasing brown or drab feathers to help them blend in while nesting. These birds are typically small and compact, with conical bills that help them in feeding on seeds and insects.
  • Where to Find Them: In Pennsylvania, you’re likely to spot indigo buntings in a variety of natural habitats including meadows, edges of woodlands, and bushy areas. They are often found in transitional areas where forests meet open spaces, providing them with ample opportunities to forage while having access to nesting sites. They are a common sight in many state parks, wildlife refuges, and natural reserves across Pennsylvania during the breeding season.
  • Fun Fact: One interesting trait of the indigo bunting is their navigational skill during migration. They use celestial cues, like stars and planets, and the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate during their night-time migrations. 

Blue Grosbeak – Passerina caerulea

  • Features: The blue grosbeak is a songbird with males showcasing a rich deep blue plumage, accompanied by chestnut wing bars which contrast beautifully with their overall hue. Females, on the other hand, sport a warm brown coloration with subtle hints of blue in their wings and tail. Both genders have large, conical bills, a feature that gives them their name and aids in cracking seeds and catching insects.
  • Where to Find Them: In Pennsylvania, blue grosbeaks predominantly favor shrubby habitats, meadows, and open woodlands. They are more commonly found in the southern parts of the state, where they can be spotted in thickets and brushy field edges which provide them with ample foraging opportunities and nesting sites. 
  • Fun Fact: Blue grosbeaks are known for their varied diet which not only includes seeds and grains but also a substantial amount of insects, especially during the breeding season. This adaptability in diet allows them to thrive in various habitats. 

Conclusion

The diversity and sheer beauty of blue birds (bluebirds included) across Pennsylvania is something to be treasured. From the deep indigo plumage of buntings to the gray-blue shades of great blue herons, these species lend their vibrant colors to each unique habitat they inhabit. By appreciating and conserving blue birds and their homes, we can maintain healthy populations of these birds across the Keystone State.

(Don’t forget to check out our articles on blue birds from other states like California, Washington, and Texas!)