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The Birds of Summer: Bluebirds

Which birds might I see today? Bluebirds

Male Western Bluebird
Male Western Bluebird. Click to enlarge.

I was asked a question recently regarding some small birds seen last summer. The questioner said, in some surprise, “They were blue!”

I replied, “They were probably bluebirds”. Indeed. To the non-birder, the sight of the first bluebird is memorable. They are startlingly blue in breeding season. And the rangeland beside lower Beaver Lake Road in Lake Country is one of the best places to see them locally.

We have two kinds of bluebird here each spring and summer: Western Bluebird and Mountain Bluebird. The Western Bluebird male is a small, round pretty bird, bright blue on head and wings and with a rosy red chest and flanks, and sometimes some red on the back too. The females are paler, looking washed-out by comparison.

Western Bluebirds
Western Bluebird pair, male on the left, female on the right.

Bluebirds like open country with scattered trees. You will often see them sitting on fence posts or wires near their nest sites, waiting for unwary insects to fly by. They also eat snails, earthworms, and berries. The young are fed by both parents until they fledge and can fly.

Bluebirds are cavity nesters which means they like holes in tree trunks, such as old woodpecker holes, in which to build their nest and lay their eggs.

Female Mountain Bluebird
Female Mountain Bluebird at nest box, Beaver Lake Road

Cutting down trees across the prairies for agricultural purposes or for safety reasons caused a severe decline in their numbers in the twentieth century.

Fortunately, the introduction of the nest box program, with nest boxes maintained and monitored by volunteers, has saved them from extinction. Wouldn’t it be a shame if we had caused the loss of these beautiful little birds?

Mountain Bluebirds prefer to nest at slightly higher elevations but can also be seen on Beaver Lake Road if you are lucky. The male Mountain Bluebird is a startling sky blue colour. See how he almost vanishes against the blue of the sky behind him?

Male Mountain Bluebird
Male Mountain Bluebird

Seen against a contrasting background, male Mountain Bluebirds are simply stunning. Females are pale grey, with touches of sky blue on the wings. Slimmer than the Western Bluebird, they also have longer wings and thinner beaks. The chicks are fed for three weeks or so after they hatch, mainly on insects which provide valuable protein for their growing bodies.

If you drive up Beaver Lake Road in search of bluebirds, take a tip! Go slowly, scanning the fence wires and posts. They are surprisingly easy to miss. If you see them, wind down your window and stay in your car so as not to spook them. Your reward will be a close look at some of the prettiest little birds you’ll see on our summer days.

Pam Laing, Okanagan birder


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