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19 Blue Birds in Texas

blue birds in texas
Indigo Bunting in Cameron, Texas: Photo by Connor Cochrane

Introduction

Texas is home to a diversity of vividly-colored blue birds. From the widespread eastern bluebird to rare South Texas specialties, these birds add a welcome splash of color to landscapes across the state. Below we highlight some of the most spectacular blue bird species found in the Lone Star State along with the best spots to see them and a few fun facts.

Little Blue Heron (Egretta caerulea)

  • Features: The little blue heron, despite its name, is not always blue. As a juvenile, it is mostly white, gradually transitioning to its striking bluish-gray plumage as it matures. This heron has a slender build and a long, pointed bill, which it expertly uses to hunt for fish, frogs, and crustaceans along the edges of marshes, ponds, and coastal areas.
  • Where to Find Them: Little blue herons can be found along the southeastern coast of the United States, as well as in Central and South America. They prefer habitats with shallow water and dense vegetation, where they can forage for food in peace. Look for them wading stealthily in the shallows or perched on branches near the water’s edge.
  • Fun Fact: Despite their small size, little blue herons are skilled hunters. They often employ a variety of hunting techniques, including standing motionless to ambush prey or slowly stalking their quarry through the shallows before striking with lightning speed.

Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias)

  • Features: The great blue heron is a majestic bird with a towering presence. With its long legs, sinuous neck, and dagger-like bill, this heron commands attention wherever it goes. Its plumage is predominantly gray-blue, with a chestnut-colored neck and a distinctive black stripe extending from its eye to the back of its head.
  • Where to Find Them: Great blue herons are widespread across North and Central America, inhabiting a variety of wetland habitats, including marshes, swamps, and estuaries. They can often be seen standing motionless in shallow water, patiently waiting for fish to swim within striking distance.
  • Fun Fact: Great blue herons are expert fishermen, using their sharp bills to spear fish with deadly accuracy. They are also known for their elaborate courtship displays, which involve aerial acrobatics, mutual preening, and the exchange of ritualized calls.

Ringed Kingfisher (Megaceryle torquata)

  • Features: The ringed kingfisher is a striking bird with bold black-and-white plumage and a distinctive rufous belly band. It has a large head, a heavy bill, and a shaggy crest of feathers on its head. This kingfisher is known for its loud, rattling call and its impressive aerial hunting skills.
  • Where to Find Them: Ringed kingfishers are native to the Americas, ranging from the southern United States to Argentina. They prefer habitats with open water, such as rivers, streams, and lakes, where they can dive for fish from perches along the shoreline.
  • Fun Fact: Ringed kingfishers are one of the largest kingfisher species in the world, capable of catching prey much larger than themselves. They are also highly territorial birds, fiercely defending their hunting territories from intruders.

Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon)

  • Features: The belted kingfisher is a distinctive bird with a shaggy crest, a large head, and a long, dagger-like bill. Its plumage is predominantly blue-gray, with a prominent white collar and a rusty-brown band across its chest. This kingfisher is known for its loud, rattling call and its impressive fishing skills.
  • Where to Find Them: Belted kingfishers are widespread across North and Central America, inhabiting a variety of aquatic habitats, including rivers, streams, lakes, and coastal areas. They can often be seen perched on branches or power lines overlooking the water, scanning for fish below.
  • Fun Fact: Belted kingfishers are solitary birds, usually only coming together during the breeding season. They are also highly territorial, fiercely defending their hunting territories from intruders.

Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)

  • Features: The blue jay is a colorful and charismatic bird with a striking blue plumage, a white face, and a distinctive crest of feathers on its head. It has a bold black collar and black markings on its wings and tail. This jay is known for its loud, raucous calls and its curious and intelligent behavior.
  • Where to Find Them: Blue jays are common throughout much of North America, inhabiting a variety of forested and suburban habitats. They can often be seen foraging for acorns, seeds, insects, and small vertebrates on the ground or in the trees.
  • Fun Fact: Blue jays are highly vocal birds, with a wide range of calls and vocalizations used for communication. They are also known for their habit of mimicking the calls of other bird species and even some human-made sounds.

Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay (Aphelocoma woodhouseii)

  • Features: Woodhouse’s scrub jay is a medium-sized bird with a slate-gray plumage, a blue-gray head, and a long, slender tail. It has a bold white eyebrow and throat, which contrast sharply with its dark facial markings. This jay is known for its loud, harsh calls and its bold and inquisitive behavior.
  • Where to Find Them: Woodhouse’s scrub jays are native to the western United States, ranging from the Great Basin to the southwestern deserts. They inhabit a variety of scrubby habitats, including chaparral, oak woodlands, and pinyon-juniper forests.
  • Fun Fact: Woodhouse’s scrub jays are highly intelligent birds, capable of remembering the locations of hundreds of food caches scattered throughout their territory. They are also skilled mimics, often imitating the calls of other bird species and even some mammalian sounds.

Mexican Jay (Aphelocoma wollweberi)

  • Features: The Mexican jay is a handsome bird with a blue-gray plumage, a black face mask, and a long, slender tail. It has a white throat and belly, which contrast sharply with its dark facial markings. This jay is known for its loud, raucous calls and its gregarious and social behavior.
  • Where to Find Them: Mexican jays are native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, inhabiting a variety of pine-oak forests and woodlands. They can often be seen foraging for acorns, seeds, insects, and small vertebrates in small family groups.
  • Fun Fact: Mexican jays are cooperative breeders, with family members helping to raise the young from previous broods. They are also known for their complex social structure, with dominant individuals asserting control over subordinate group members.

Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)

  • Features: The tree swallow is a sleek and streamlined bird with iridescent blue-green plumage on its back and wings and pure white underparts. It has a slightly forked tail and a slender, pointed bill, which it uses to catch flying insects on the wing. This swallow is known for its graceful flight and its melodious, bubbling song.
  • Where to Find Them: Tree swallows are widespread across North America, breeding in open habitats near water, such as marshes, meadows, and shorelines. They can often be seen swooping and diving in pursuit of flying insects, performing intricate aerial maneuvers with ease.
  • Fun Fact: Tree swallows are highly social birds, often forming large flocks outside of the breeding season. They are also cavity nesters, frequently using nest boxes provided by humans to raise their young in urban and suburban areas.

Purple Martin (Progne subis)

  • Features: The purple martin is a large swallow with glossy, iridescent purple-blue plumage and a distinctive forked tail. It has a stout, slightly hooked bill and long, pointed wings, which it uses to catch flying insects on the wing. This martin is known for its graceful flight and its melodious, bubbling song.
  • Where to Find Them: Purple martins are native to North America, breeding in open habitats near water, such as marshes, meadows, and shorelines. They are cavity nesters, often using artificial nest boxes provided by humans to raise their young in urban and suburban areas.
  • Fun Fact: Purple martins are highly social birds, often nesting in large colonies with dozens or even hundreds of pairs. They are also known for their close relationship with humans, with some individuals returning to the same nest sites year after year.

Blue Bunting (Cyanocompsa parellina)

  • Features: The blue bunting is a small, brightly colored bird with vibrant blue plumage and a distinctive black mask across its eyes. It has a slender build and a conical bill, which it uses to crack open seeds and forage for insects. This bunting is known for its melodious, flute-like song and its shy and elusive behavior.
  • Where to Find Them: Blue buntings are native to Mexico and Central America, inhabiting a variety of forested and scrubby habitats. They can often be seen foraging for seeds and insects on the ground or in the trees, moving quickly and quietly through the underbrush.
  • Fun Fact: Blue buntings are migratory birds, spending the winter months in Mexico and Central America before returning to their breeding grounds in the spring. They are also highly territorial birds, fiercely defending their feeding and nesting territories from intruders.

Eastern Bluebird – Sialia sialis

  • Features: The eastern bluebird is a small thrush with a big heart. Loved for its vibrant blue plumage contrasted with a rusty-red chest, this bird embodies a gentle disposition that’s hard to overlook. The males are particularly striking, with bright blue feathers and a rich, rust-colored breast, while the females don a subtler, yet equally beautiful, gray-blue hue complemented with a lighter rust breast.
  • Where to Find Them: Eastern bluebirds breed in the, well, eastern parts of Texas. They have a preference for open spaces with low ground cover, which makes spotting them relatively easy. You can find them perched on fences, telephone wires, or low branches in open fields, often scouting for insects to feast upon. 
  • Fun Fact: Despite their serene appearance, eastern bluebirds are quite territorial, especially during the breeding season. They have been known to fiercely defend their nesting sites against potential intruders, showcasing a fiery spirit that belies their gentle exterior. 

Mountain Bluebird – Sialia currucoides

  • Features: The mountain bluebird is an embodiment of the azure skies it soars through, showcasing a brilliant all-blue plumage that can range from pale cerulean to a vibrant sky blue, making it a visual treat against the backdrop of its mountainous habitats. The males are particularly dazzling, bearing a brighter hue compared to the females, who have a more subdued grayish-blue tone. 
  • Where to Find Them: As their name suggests, mountain bluebirds predominantly inhabit mountainous regions, thriving in open country landscapes such as meadows, alpine clearings, and foothills where they have ample space to forage and nest. Mountain bluebirds occasionally winter from the Edwards Plateau in the east to the Davis and Guadalupe mountains to the west and north of the panhandle of Texas.
  • Fun Fact: Mountain bluebirds are a migratory species, and their migratory patterns showcase an interesting aspect of adaptability. Unlike many birds who have fixed destinations, these bluebirds are known to wander, often adjusting their wintering locations based on food availability and weather conditions, showcasing a remarkable level of flexibility and resourcefulness. 

Western Bluebird – Sialia Mexicana

  • Features: Western bluebirds are a treat to the eyes with their deep-blue plumage on the males and the grayish-blue seen in females. The males often display a rust or orange-colored chest and back, adding to their striking appearance. 
  • Where to Find Them: In Texas, they can be spotted mainly in the western and central regions, in areas offering a blend of open spaces interspersed with trees, which provide them with ample nesting and feeding opportunities. They are commonly sighted in areas like the Hill Country, where oak woodlands offer a perfect habitat for these bluebirds.
  • Fun Fact: Though western bluebirds may exude a gentle demeanor, territorial disputes can become intense. And frightening. Competing males sometimes seize each other’s legs, fall to the ground together, and should one overpower the other, he might stand atop him and peck aggressively with his pointy little beak.

Tropical Parula – Setophaga pitiayumi

  • Features: The tropical parula is a small songbird with a vibrant plumage, sporting a bright yellow underside contrasted with a gray-blue back and wings, and a prominent eye-ring that adds to its distinctive look. Not to be missed is the rich orange-red patch on the male’s throat.
  • Where to Find Them: In Texas, birdwatchers are in for a treat when it comes to spotting tropical parulas. These birds are generally found in the eastern and southern parts of the state, particularly in areas with mature forests and rich understory, close to water bodies like rivers and swamps. They are particularly fond of Spanish moss, where they often weave their nests. Notable locations to find them include the Big Thicket National Preserve and the Lower Rio Grande Valley, where the lush environment provides the perfect backdrop to observe these colorful birds in their natural habitat.
  • Fun Fact: The genus name, Setophaga, comes from the Greek ‘ses,’ meaning “mouth,” and ‘phagos,’ meaning “eating,” referring to a primary part of the bird’s diet.

Cerulean Warbler – Setophaga cerulea

  • Features: The cerulean warbler is a small bird, primarily known for its beautiful cerulean blue plumage in males. The females have a more greenish-blue plumage that allows them to meld into their leafy surroundings. Its distinctive song, a series of high-pitched buzzes and zips, often echoes through the canopy.
  • Where to Find Them: In Texas, they can be occasionally spotted in the eastern regions, mainly in areas with abundant oak and hickory trees. Places like the Big Thicket National Preserve offer a conducive habitat for these elusive warblers, providing a mix of dense canopies and water sources which are vital for their survival.
  • Fun Fact: In the event of a nest failure and subsequent renesting, the female frequently utilizes spiderweb material from the previous nest to commence building the new one. While fresh lining materials are collected for the new nest, the spiderweb is often reused, possibly due to its valuable properties and the difficulty in sourcing new quantities, avoiding unnecessary waste.

Blue Grosbeak – Passerina caerulea

  • Features: The blue grosbeak, is renowned for its rich, deep blue plumage which is more vibrant in males and accompanied by a distinctive rusty wingbar. The females, however, present a more subdued brown coloration which allows them to blend seamlessly into their natural environments. These birds are sizable with a sturdy build, which includes a thick, seed-crushing bill.
  • Where to Find Them: To catch a glimpse of the blue grosbeak, one might venture into the shrubby clearings, woodland edges, or near streams in the southern parts of the United States. In Texas, they are predominantly found in the eastern and central regions, frequenting areas with dense underbrush and riparian corridors where they can nest and forage in peace. Places like the Big Bend National Park and the Brazos Bend State Park offer promising spots to encounter these birds during the breeding season.
  • Fun Fact: Genetic research indicates that the lazuli bunting (see below) is the nearest relative to the blue grosbeak.

Indigo Bunting – Passerina cyanea

  • Features: The indigo bunting has blue plumage in males, especially notable in the breeding season. Females and young males, however, exhibit a much more subdued brown coloration, allowing them to blend into their surroundings seamlessly. Despite their small size, these buntings are robust, characterized by a compact body and conical bill that facilitates their seed-based diet, much like blue grosbeaks.
  • Where to Find Them: In Texas, they can be commonly spotted in the eastern and central regions, gracing places like the Balcones Canyonlands National Wildlife Refuge and the Sabal Palm Sanctuary with their presence. During the breeding season, they are usually found in higher elevations, where their melodious songs resonate through the forests, whereas in winters, they migrate to Central America, frequenting similar habitats.
  • Fun Fact: Indigo buntings undertake nocturnal migrations, navigating by the stars. This phenomenon was substantiated in the late 1960s through research involving the observation of captive indigo buntings both in a planetarium and beneath the authentic night sky. These birds are equipped with an innate clock, allowing them to consistently modify their orientation angle to a specific star as it traverses the nocturnal sky.

Lazuli Bunting – Passerina amoena

  • Features: The lazuli bunting males, during the breeding season, flaunt a bright blue head that transitions into a white belly with a chestnut mantle on their back. The females, on the other hand, display more earthy browns and grays, which helps in camouflage during the nesting period. 
  • Where to Find Them: In Texas, while not a regular, they might be spotted during migration in the western parts of the state, particularly in areas with abundant shrubs and trees that provide both food and shelter. Places like Guadalupe Mountains National Park could potentially offer sightings of these birds, especially during the spring and fall migrations.
  • Fun Fact: The enchanting appearance of the lazuli bunting captivated early naturalists, leading them to name it Passerina amoena, which translates to “beautiful sparrow”.

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Polioptila caerulea

  • Features: The blue-gray gnatcatcher is a small, agile bird with a soft blue-gray plumage that blends with the sky and trees. This nimble bird exhibits a distinguishing feature, a prominent white eye-ring that gives it a wide-eyed appearance. Its slender, flexible bill is well-suited for gleaning insects, which constitute its primary diet. The males exhibit a subtle yet distinctive black line on their forehead during the breeding season.
  • Where to Find Them: In Texas, they are quite widespread, making homes in various regions including the eastern woodlands, the coastal marshes, and the Rio Grande Valley. They can be spotted flitting energetically between branches, in pursuit of insects, in parks, and nature reserves across the state.
  • Fun Fact: Oddly enough, despite their name, gnats make up a very small part of blue-gray gnatcatchers diets.

Threats and Conservation

Blue birds in Texas face several threats that impact their conservation efforts. Habitat loss due to urbanization and agricultural expansion poses a significant challenge to their survival. Additionally, competition for nesting sites with invasive bird species further exacerbates the issue. To protect these beautiful birds, conservationists in Texas are working diligently to preserve and restore their natural habitats, implement nest box programs, and educate the public about the importance of blue bird conservation.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the conservation of blue birds in Texas is of utmost importance due to the numerous threats they face. Habitat loss and competition with invasive bird species pose significant challenges to their survival. However, through dedicated efforts such as habitat preservation, nest box programs, and public education, conservationists in Texas are actively working towards safeguarding these beautiful birds for future generations.