The male has very brilliant blue feathers on his head, back, and tail. His chest is an orange or bold chestnut color and his undertail coverts also have some chestnut coloring. There is a lighter blue on his stomach. The female is similar, but much duller in color. Western Bluebirds are part of a family of songbirds called thrushes. Thrushes are small or medium-sized songbirds that include the Varied Thrush, the American Robin, Eastern Bluebird, Mountain Bluebird, Townsend's Solitaire, Swainson's Thrush, and the Hermit Thrush. Western Bluebirds have a pleasant song. Nothing very fancy, but certainly a nice song to listen to as you walk through the open woodlands and forests this bluebird calls home. Unlike the Eastern and Mountain Bluebirds, the Western Bluebird's habitat is not primarily meadows or pastureland. It prefers a few trees. Open woodlands and even open coniferous forests are ideal. Thrushes often feed on the ground.
Western Bluebird on the grass looking for insects at Mason Regional Park .
It eats fruits, seeds, and insects. It will fly down from a perch to the ground for insects, sow bugs, or spiders, then return to a perch. They will eat insects such as ants, termites, and even insects as large as grasshoppers and crickets. Sometimes it almost seems like a flycatcher. I often spot a Western Bluebird when I see it flying down from the trees to the ground and back. Also will glean insects off the trees. They also eat berries from mistletoe plants, elderberry trees, and juniper trees and other fruits are part of their winter diet.
Irvine Regional Park in Orange, California
Two the main competitors of Western and Eastern Bluebirds are aggressive, alien species from England. They were brought here by well-meaning, but ignorant people who wanted to see these familiar British species in the United States. In the 1890, 100 Starlings were introduced into Central Park by Eugene Schieffelin, a man taken with Shakespeare's reference to them in his writings. Starting in 1851 and for several years following, others did the same thing with House Sparrows (to be differentiated from House Finches--a native species). My English great-grandfather called them chippies. He recognized them right away as English Sparrows. No one realized the danger of invasive alien species at that time. The problem with European Starlings and House Sparrows is that both are cavity nesters and about the time they came over to our shores natural cavities for cavity nesters were in serious decline. Due to our removal of dead trees used by many species, clearing of land, and replacement of wood with metal in for fence posts and other construction, cavity nesters began to decline over time. The avian invaders swept the country from the Eastern United States to the West. First the Eastern Bluebird suffered decline and then the Western. As land development followed, so did decline. It was a serious problem for Bluebirds and cavity nesters of all kinds. Western Bluebird box in Huntington Central Park.
In the late 1920's, Thomas E. Musselman of Quincy, Illinois began to build bluebird boxes. He invented the "bluebird trail"--a series of bluebird nesting boxes. He places the first bluebird trails along roads in his home county in Illinois. The idea spread. Soon there were thousands of nest boxes for Eastern Bluebirds set up in the eastern United States. In the late 1960's, Hubert W. Prescott of Portland, Oregon was similarly concerned with the Western Bluebirds in his area of Oregon. He was the moving force behind bluebird trails for the Western Bluebird in Oregon. The Portland Audubon Society maintains bluebird trails in the area currently.
Western Bluebird nesting box in Shipley Nature Center in Huntington Central Park.
The North American Bluebird Society was established in 1978. Perhaps it has caught on so much because this is a species that the average citizen can help by putting up a box or working with a group who maintains local bluebird trails in parks, golf courses, and other natural areas. Bluebird nestboxes do not have a perch which both Starlings and House Sparrows prefer. The Southern California Bluebird Club was established in Orange County through the efforts of birder Richard Purvis. They help thousands of Western Bluebirds fledge each year by building, installing, and maintaining Bluebird nestboxes. Purvis has invented "The Purvis Lifter" to make maintaining and cleaning his Purvis Nestbox easier. When Purvis started in the 1980s there were only 10 pairs of breeding Western Bluebirds in Orange County. In 2007, the group's nestboxes fledged 5,200 nestlings. At 80 years old, he is an active advocate for Western Bluebirds in Orange County and beyond. Birds and birders owe the Southern California Bluebird Club a lot.
Birding in Orange County is a lot more enjoyable because of their efforts.
Open Woodlands that Western Bluebirds like in Huntington Central Park.
Purvis is in the news again telling people about the dangers of Easter Grass for Western Bluebirds. The plastic grass gets wound around the chicks and choke them and can entangle the parent so that he or she cannot get out of the nest to get them food. Read the whole article from the OC Register here.
When you are out birding in Orange County during Spring or Summer, look for the bright blue bird flying down to the ground and back to its perch. You just may see the Western Bluebird. To make sure you do, check out these places where Western Bluebirds can be found in season:
Some places Western Bluebirds can be found in Orange County
Santiago Oaks Regional Park
The Aggressive House Sparrow. Introduced from England to the United States.
OC Birder Girl Links
Shipley Nature Center
European Starling. Aggressive cavity nester was imported by misguided Shakespeare fan to New York's Central Park in mid 1800's.
External Links and Resources
All About Birds: Western Bluebirds
Detailed article on the Western Bluebird.
All about an invasive species that threatens the Western and Eastern Bluebird.
Another invasive species. The ubiquitous McDonald's bird.
American Bird Conservancy: Western Bluebird Reintroduction Project
Animal Diversity Web: Western Bluebird
Detailed article about the Western Bluebird.
Audubon at Home: How to Help Western Bluebirds
Advice on what Western Bluebirds need to survive in your backyard. What plants to grow, what food to offer in the feeder, nest boxes, and more.
Good history of the movement to protect Bluebirds and to provide nest boxes for them.
BirdWeb: Western Bluebird
Great article from the Seattle Audubon Society.
Birding Column: Mesmerized by Western Bluebirds
The Birdman of Bel Air talks about Western Bluebirds.
Reference guide for feeding bluebirds, maintaining nest boxes and more. Great site by Cornell Ornithology Lab, The North American Bluebird Society, and The Birdhouse Network.
Our neighbors down south are active bluebird supporters.
Article about bluebirds and nestboxes in Orange County from Cindy McNatt of the OC Register.
California Bluebird Recovery Program
California organization that
OC Register article on how our thoughtless Easter trash kills Western Bluebirds and other birds.
Internet Bird Collection: Western Bluebird
Los Angeles Times: A Hole Lotta Love for the Western Bluebird in O.C.
Newspaper article about the Southern California Bluebird Club and Dick Purvis.
North American Bluebird Society
National Bluebird Society.
Prescott Bluebird Recovery Project
Great site from Oregon about their Bluebird Recovery program.
All about Bluebirds. Great site.
Southern California Bluebird Club
"Our mission is to preserve and protect the Western Bluebird and other cavity nesters in Southern CA." Check out their blog. See the details of the Purvis nestbox system here.
The Western Bluebird Survival Guide
State of Oregon guide to helping the Western Bluebird thrive.
USGS: Western Bluebird
Short, but helpful.
Violet-green Swallows Help Western Bluebirds at the Nest
Fascinating study of interspecies cooperation in raising of young. (Eltzroth and Robinson, Journal of Field Ornithology: Vol. 55, No. 2, Spring, 1984)
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