Did you see a BLUE bird in California?
If so, I’m sure you’re wondering what type of bird it was! Luckily, you can use the guide below to help you figure it out.
And let me clarify, “When I say blue birds, I mean birds that are partly or entirely blue.” Surprisingly, there are 14 blue birds in California that we will be looking at in this guide
I have included information on males and females of each species. But please note that MOST male species are bluer than females. Sometimes the female is more moderately blue or a different color entirely.
There are 14 birds in California that are considered “blue.”
#1. Barn Swallow
- Hirundo rustica
- Small bird with a flat head, thin bill, pointed wings, thick neck, and fork-like tail.
- Both sexes are similar striking metallic blue, rusty brown underparts, rufous colored forehead, and throat. White spots on the tail are typically visible during flight. Females are as bold in colors.
These blue birds are typically found in California in open fields, meadows, pond marshes, or coastal waters.
Barn Swallow Range Map
Barn Swallows prefer to eat larger insects rather than eating groups of smaller ones. Therefore, they primarily feed close to water or the ground catching insects in mid-air.
This blue bird doesn’t typically ever come to bird feeders. But you may get lucky if you leave out eggshells or oyster shells on a platform feeder. These foods aid in their digestion.
One interesting fact about Barn Swallows is sometimes; an unmated male will kill young birds in a nest to break up the parenting Barn Swallow couple. Then the unmated male gets together with the female.
Both males and females sing a long warbler song full of warbling notes and mechanical sounds. Listen below.
#2. Cliff Swallow
- Petrochelidon pyrrhonota
- Small head, rounded body, and square tail.
- Both sexes look similar with dark blue on backs and crowns, rust-colored faces, dark wings, orangeish rump, and white underparts.
- Whiteish tan mark above bill, which sometimes is brown.
If you see a flock of birds that are blue in California, it may be a bunch of Cliff Swallows!
These social birds are found in large flocks, often around in various habitats. They prefer grasslands, towns, and river edges but are many times seen around bridges. They also like to stay away from forests and deserts.
Cliff Swallow Range Map
This species typically builds mud nests on cliffs. But now, because of so many manmade structures, they also make their nest under bridges and overpasses.
The Cliff Swallow primarily forages for food in the air in flocks up to over 1,000 individuals during the day.
Cliff swallows songs are odd sounding with grinding sounds and squeaks. It kind of sounds like if someone was twisty a balloon and trying to make a balloon animal. Listen below.
#3. Belted Kingfisher
- Megaceryle alcyon
- Both sexes are bluish-gray with white around the neck and underparts—long mohawk feathered crown with a long bill.
- Females are blue-gray and white and have more bright colors than males. Females also have a rust-colored belly.
- Males are blue-gray with a white band on their neck and a blue-gray band on their breast.
This species gets the award for being one of the coolest-looking birds that are blue in California. Its distinct high crown feathers and large long bill on its tiny body should help you quickly identify them.
Belted Kingfishers are found in water habitats almost everywhere.
Fortunately, you can attract them to your backyard if you have a pond or goldfish pool.
Belted King Fisher Range Map
You will find the Belted Kingfisher near the edges of water like lakes, rivers, or ponds. From here, they hunt their prey by diving from their perch to get fish from the water.
These birds don’t have a song but give mechanical rattles as calls, often even for the slightest thing. If frightened, they have been known to let out a scream. Listen below to their call.
#4. Purple Martin
- Progne subis
- Larger swallow, with a slightly hooked bill, long tapered wings, and short forked tails.
- Males are a deep blueish purple with brownish-black wings and tails.
- Females are duller in color, white belly, and gray on the head and chest.
You are probably thinking, “Why is a Purple Martin in an article about blue birds?”
It is because they are primarily more blue than purple!
This bird’s habitat is broad, and they prefer an open area as long as it is by a lake or pond.
Purple Martin Range Map
Purple Martins prefer to eat insects year-round and are swift flyers. They glide and make big circles in the air as they catch prey. They can fly as high as 500 feet in the air.
To attract these species try putting out a Purple Martin birdhouse during the breeding season. You should make sure it has a guard to protect the eggs from predators. This species enjoys eating broken eggshells, which helps their digestion.
Both sexes sing songs. The male songs are a deep gurgling warbler “tee, tee, tee.” Female songs are more joyful.
#5. Tree Swallow
- Tachycineta bicolor
- Small bird with a tiny bill.
- Males are greenish-blue on upperparts, long and pointy black wings, and white on the belly.
- Females are not as bright in color and brown upper parts.
You will typically find Tree Swallows by bodies of water in shorelines, marshes, or fields, where they breed and can find tons of insects to feed on. This species will even bathe by flying over the water, skimming their bodies on the surface, and shaking off the droplets.
Tree Swallow Range Map
This blue bird prefers to eat insects, but they visit backyards with fruit shrubs, such as Mayberry.
After breeding season, Tree Swallows gather in large groups up to hundreds of thousands to migrate and molt.
Both males and females sing a cheerful but shrill song. Listen below.
#6. Little Blue Heron
- Egretta caerulea
- Adults have a slate-gray body and a purple-maroon head and neck.
- Juveniles during their first year, these herons are entirely white!
- Look for a two-toned bill, regardless of the bird’s age, which is gray with a black tip.
Little Blue Herons are blue wading birds in California found in shallow wetlands.
They are patient hunters and will stay motionless for long periods, waiting for prey to pass by them. While waiting, they keep their daggerlike bill pointed downwards to be prepared for the moment a fish, amphibian, insect, or crustacean appears.
Little Blue Heron Range Map
As you can see above, juvenile Little Blue Herons look entirely different than adults! It’s thought that these birds adapted this white plumage to be tolerated by Snowy Egrets, who catch more fish. Hanging out with large flocks of white herons also probably helps with avoiding predators. 🙂
Little Blue Herons are mostly silent, but it is possible to hear them squeaking when alarmed. They also emit various screams and croaks while nesting at a colony.
#7. Blue Grosbeak
- Passerina caerulea
- Stocky grosbeak with a vast, triangular bill.
- Males are deep, rich blue birds with a small black mask in front of the eyes, chestnut wing bars, and a black and silver beak.
- Females are primarily cinnamon-brown. The color is richer on the head, paler on the underparts; their tails are bluish.
These blue birds will visit bird feeders in California that offer sunflower seeds. To help them feel more protected, place your feeding station near shrubs and other brushes. You’ll typically hear them singing before you see them.
Blue Grosbeaks Range Map
Blue Grosbeaks are very shy, especially around humans, which makes them challenging to observe. Interestingly, both males and females have a weird habit of twitching their tails sideways, although the reason for this behavior is unknown.
Blue Grosbeaks have also been known to “sidle,” where they walk sideways along branches, as seen in parrots.
Listen below as the male Blue Grosbeak sings a musical warble that lasts for 2 or 3 seconds.
#8. Mountain Bluebird
- Sialia currucoides
- Males are covered with beautiful sky-blue feathers on their heads, back, and wings.
- Females are a bit trickier since they are primarily gray-brown, with tinges of blue on their tails and wings.
There are not many things more beautiful than seeing one of these bluebirds while hiking in the mountains. 🙂
In California, look for Mountain Bluebirds in open areas. As their name suggests, Mountain Bluebirds are observed at elevations up to 12,500 feet during the breeding season. However, once winter arrives, they typically fly down to lower elevations.
Mountain Bluebird Range Map
Mountain Bluebirds feast on insects during warm months and switch their diet to primary berries in winter. But unlike other bluebird species, they are excellent aerial hunters and routinely grab insects out of mid-air!
Finding a suitable nesting location is crucial for female Mountain Bluebirds; they rarely care about anything else. She chooses her mate almost solely based on the quality of his nesting cavity, ignoring things like looks, singing skills, and flying ability!
Press PLAY! Next time you are in a mountain valley or meadow, keep your ears open and listen for a Mountain Bluebird!
#9. Lazuli Bunting
- Passerina amoena
- Small, stocky birds with cone-shaped bills.
- Males are a vivid sky blue on top with a white belly and orangish-brown breast. Wings are streaked and have a white marking on the shoulder.
- Females are grayish-brown on upper parts and tan underneath. Wings have a blueish tint to parts of them and two tan wing bars.
You will find these blue birds in California. They prefer shrubbery-filled hillsides near water.
Lazuli Bunting Range Map
Lazuli Buntings spend most of their time foraging for spiders, caterpillars, or beetles on the ground or in low areas of shrubs or trees.
They are a regular visitor to backyard bird feeders and enjoy sunflower seeds, white proso millet, and nyjer seeds. Helpful Hint: if you provide native shrubs to provide foraging or nesting locations, you can increase the chances of seeing one.
Male Lazulis sing a fast high pitched song where they repeat the same notes. Listen below.
#10. Steller’s Jay
- Cyanocitta stelleri
- Larger bird with a black head, rounded wings, and long tail. A tall black crest on the crown of the head helps identify them.
- Both sexes are half black, half blue on their wings, belly, and tail.
You will find the Steller’s Jay in evergreen forests in California. These bold birds, which are half blue, often visit parks, campgrounds, and picnic areas.
Steller’s Jay Range Map
This jay is very intelligent, bold, and noisy. You can attract this species to your backyard feeders by providing peanuts or larger seeds and suet.
The Steller’s Jays are often nest robbers. They have even been known to attack or kill small adult birds like nuthatches or juncos.
Males and sometimes females have calls that sound like “shaack, shaack, shaack,” shooka, shooka.” Listen below.
#11. Pinyon Jay
- Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus
- Medium-sized jay with a long sharp bill. Looks sort of like a blue crow.
- Both sexes are several shades of blue and are duller on the belly.
Pinyon Jays are one of the noisier blue birds found in California!
These crestless jays are found in pinyon-juniper woodlands, sagebrush, and pine trees in mountainous regions. This omnivorous species primarily eats pinyon-pine seeds but occasionally eats small animals, snakes, and lizards.
Pinyon Jay Range Map
Pinyon Jays can form large flocks, which number up to 500 birds that stay together while they breed and forage year-round.
These birds will come for a short visit to your bird feeders to enjoy some cracked corn, peanuts, sunflower seeds, or suet.
Pinyon Jays make an assortment of calls. Some are crow-like. Listen below.
#12. Western Bluebird
- Sialia Mexicana
- Males are vibrant blue with rusty chest. Blue throat and gray belly.
- Females look similar, but the colors are more subdued.
Look for these bluebirds in California at the edge of forests or open woodlands. Western Bluebirds are not often found in meadows and fields. Instead, these birds opt for the woods. Their favorite habitat seems to be areas that have been logged or burned, as these places are open but still contain many trees.
These bluebirds tend to stay close to the ground to fly down quickly to catch insects, which are their favorite food. They can usually be found perched on low limbs, signs, and fence posts. Western Bluebirds even stay low to the ground while flying!
Western Bluebird Range Map
This bluebird species only nests in enclosed cavities. Competition is high for these limited spots, and they regularly compete with nuthatches, House Wrens, European Starlings, House Sparrows, swallows, and even other Western Bluebirds.
You should try listening for Western Bluebirds next time you are out. These birds make a soft call, which phonetically often sounds like “kew” repeated several times. Press PLAY to hear a Western Bluebird!
#13. Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay
- Aphelocoma woodhouseii
- Long bird with long tail and stout bill.
- Both sexes are light blue and gray on top, have a grayish belly, and a white throat.
You will find these mostly blue birds in California in woodlands of pine and juniper or dry shrublands.
Woodhouse Scrub-Jay Range Map
Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays are known to stand on the backs of mule deer. They do this to help the mule deer by picking ticks and parasites and eating them. The mule deer don’t mind and will stand still and put their ears up to assist in their efforts.
If you want to attract this species to your backyard feeders, you will to provide sunflower seeds and peanuts. And if you have thick shrubbery or small trees, you may even be lucky enough to have a pair nest in your yard!
Males and females both sing light, pleasant songs lasting up to five minutes. Listen below.
#14. California Scrub-Jay
- Aphelocoma californica
- Medium-sized crestless jay.
- Both sexes have blue heads, wings, and tails. A white throat outlined with a blue necklace.
Do you think this bird looks similar to the Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay?
If so, you would be correct.
These two species look alike and are often hard to distinguish. Before 2016, these two birds were under one name, the Western Scrub-Jay.
Here’s how to tell them apart. The California Scrub-Jay has a blue outline around the white throat and a shorter bill. The Woodhouse Scrub-Jay has no blue outline mark on the throat and a longer bill.
These blue birds are found in California in scrubland and oak woodlands.
California Scrub-Jay Range Map
This species primarily eat grains, fruits, frogs, lizards, and, unfortunately, eggs and young of other birds.
You can attract California Scrub-Jays with sunflower seeds and peanuts. If you are lucky and have them come for a quick meal, you will enjoy watching them because they are very vocal and playful birds.
Males and females sing a soft mix of notes. Listen below.
Do you need additional help identifying a blue bird you have seen?
If so, this field guide should be able to help you.
Which of these blue birds have you seen before in California?
Leave a comment below!
The range maps above were generously shared with permission from The Birds of the World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site often to learn new information about birds.