For whatever reason, I was given to pondering the other day about the range of species we see here, where the predominant plumage colour is blue. The shades are as different as the birds themselves, but all are splendid, and I will present a few of them to you, with pictures drawn from our archives.
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata)
This very handsome species is common in these parts, but its ubiquity makes it no less a welcome sight at any time. It is a marvelous bird and merits all the admiration we can muster.
It is a frequent visitor to our backyard and is nearly always found in suitable woodland habitat too, so rarely a day goes by that we fail to enjoy the company of this captivating beauty.
It is a resident species and is not shy to come to backyard feeders, especially during the winter months when a little supplementary protein and fat is always welcome.
Like many birds, it has an initial aversion to close contact with humans, with good reason, but once it develops confidence in you it will come to your hand without hesitation. Studies have proven that other corvids are able to recognize humans as individuals and to know those that are kind and wish them no harm, and I suspect that this is true of Blue Jays also.
Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)
There has been taxonomic discussion over the years as to whether this species is a chat or a thrush, and Peter Clement seems to hedge his bets by omitting it from his tome on thrushes (Thrushes (2000), and placing it in Robins and Chats (2015) as follows: "A stocky, chat-sized thrush of open woodland, orchards.....".
In IOC World Bird List Version 11.1 there is no equivocation. Eastern Bluebird is a thrush!
And a very attractive thrush too!
As a cavity-nester Eastern Bluebirds went through a period of steep decline as they faced intense competition from introduced House Sparrows (Passer domesticus) and Common Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) for a diminishing number of available nest sites. Sparrows and starlings are appreciably more aggressive than bluebirds and in most cases the bluebirds were losers in the battles for a home, sometimes even paying with their lives.
The stage was set for human intervention and bluebird societies sprang up all across the continent with dedicated (obsessive some might say) volunteers establishing bluebird nest box trails, sometime numbering into the hundreds of boxes. The sites were closely monitored and protected, barriers were installed to deter predation, and if any invader dared to try to usurp a bluebird it was summarily evicted by its human guardian and protector.
The result has been a huge resurgence in bluebird populations, and it is once again a familiar sight in suitable habitat throughout the continent. A feel-good story by any measure and a great conservation success!
The female is not quite as attractive as the male one might conclude, but charming and delightful in her own way.
Once there are young to feed both parents are dedicated providers and may be seen constantly shunting back and forth to stuff insects into the mouths of hungry youngsters.
If you live locally and are reading this, and have never seen a bluebird, get in touch with me and I'll be happy to show you one.
Indigo Bunting (Passerina cynea)
This charming species arrives in our area in May, and shortly thereafter males may be seen singing from high perches wherever a suitable tree or snag provides maximum exposure.
We have a special affection for this species. Miriam's sister, Grace, remembers Indigo Buntings vividly from her childhood, and if one can have a favourite bird, this is it for her. So, whenever we see one, the thought that it is Grace's Bunting springs to mind. Maybe we can petition the taxonomists to change the scientific name to Passerina graceii, but I suspect that we will have little chance of success!
Each year, for the past few years, a male has visited our backyard for a couple of days, during which time he returns frequently to feed, and to thrill us in the process. For some reason, we have received no such companion this year, even though all the conditions are the same as they have been in years past. Who can figure out what goes on in the minds of birds?
Tree Swallow (Tachycineta bicolor)
If you have never seen the flash of steely blue and dazzling white as a Tree Swallow jinks and knifes through the air, you have missed one of life's great treats. I have seen it a thousand times and more, and still there is a sense of awe.
This cavity-nesting species enjoys great breeding success along our bluebird trail at SpruceHaven where we are happy to see the two species breed side by side. They do not compete for food, since the Tree Swallow is an aerial feeder and the bluebird drops to the ground to capture its prey.
Here is a pair on a nest box; the female at the left is browner than the male, but they make a stunning pair.
Tree Swallows still nest in natural cavities where they are available, but the vast majority are now dependent on nesting facilities furnished by humans.
They repay immeasurably the effort we put into providing them with a home, and bring us inexpressible joy.
Long may they grace our skies.
Black-throated Blue Warbler (Setophaga caerulescens)
As soon as neotropical warblers begin to arrive back in southern Ontario to breed Black-throated Blue Warbler is one of the easier species to find.
It is a handsome little bird, as are all the warblers of course, but unfortunately I have only one picture where the bird (the male) actually looks blue!
I do have several other pictures, but the bird is always in shade and appears grey rather than blue.
The conspicuous patch of white you see at the base of the primaries is a diagnostic feature in both sexes, and enables even a novice to clinch the ID of this species without difficulty.
Generally, this species is transient in our area, seldom breeding here. Its breeding territories are principally found in the southern part of the Canadian Shield.
We will have to redouble our efforts to get more pictures. If only the darn bird would stay still for more than a second or two!
Northern Parula (Setophaga americana)
To see a Northern Parula is to swoon with joy! So many colours combine to achieve a captivating look.
I suppose it is a bit of a stretch to label this a blue bird, but when I think of it I always envision blue first, so perhaps you will understand.
I am always drawn to the split eye ring too.
This is another species that is merely passing through when we see it locally. Its distribution as a breeding bird "extends generally from about Belleville and Barrie north and west to Kapuskasing and Dryden". (Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario 2001-2005 (2007).
Get out and look for one now! There may be a few still lingering before moving to their breeding territories, but not for long!
I hope you have enjoyed looking at a few blue birds, and maybe one day you can see them all for yourself -or perhaps you already have!