In North America, three bluebird species exist: Eastern, Western and mountain. They can be identified and categorized by simply observing their plumage: Eastern and Western bluebirds have a rusty-colored breast that is starkly distinctive against the remaining blue-colored body. Westerns can sometimes have blue feathers on their throat, while male mountain bluebirds are a full, brilliant blue shade and females mountains are gray with blue on wings and tail. The habitats of Eastern bluebirds extend east of the Rocky Mountains and as far south as Bermuda, while Western bluebirds frequent the entire West Coast, as far north as Canada (even at elevations as high as 7,000 feet). Their relative, the mountain bluebird, is often spotted in open ranch lands and habitats in the Western United States. While the mountain bluebird can withstand cold temperatures, it can be observed outside it's natural habitat range during winter.
Bluebirds are migratory birds, heading south to follow their food supply and in search of warmer weather. Often, they travel in groups. Bluebirds hunt small insects in the summertime, such as spiders, worms, crickets and grasshoppers and eat wild, native fruits and plants during colder weather. Bluebird pairs mate two times a year and create small, cavity nests for egg-laying. Incubation lasts two weeks before young emerge. They are then taken care of by both parents for approximately 3 weeks before they are able to fly on their own, a process called "fledging." Healthy bluebirds can live as long as three years; However, bluebirds have many predators, including cats, house sparrows, red squirrel, deer mice, snakes and raccoons. Although bluebirds have a deficient sense of smell and taste, their eyesight and hearing is excellent.
While bluebird sightings are a common experience, populations are on decline due to modernization, predators and nesting problems. Because bluebirds are secondary cavity nesters--meaning they seek out pre-existing cavities in which to make a nest-- they can be attracted to an area that has a nest box. Bluebird trails that feature numerous nest boxes have sprouted across North American parks and farmlands as a successful species conservation effort. As nest boxes are sometimes targeted by house sparrows, bird boxes are the most successful when placed outside urban areas and buildings such as sheds and barns. Interested people should consider making a nest box--an easy construction project--to promote bluebird populations and to preserve this fascinating species for future generations to enjoy.