3 Species of Bluebirds Found in Montana! (ID Guide)
What types of bluebirds can you find in Montana?
Bluebirds are one of the most popular birds in Montana and have captivated people’s interest and attention for a long time. These small birds, distinguished by their beautiful blue plumage, are actually part of the thrush family (Turdidae).
And while everyone WANTS to attract bluebirds to their backyard, it’s surprisingly challenging to get them to visit bird feeders. But don’t worry, if you keep reading, you will learn some proven tips you can implement today!
- *RELATED: Watch the LIVE bird feeder and animal cameras in MY backyard* (You may get lucky and see a bluebird on my cams RIGHT NOW!)
Below are the 3 types of bluebirds that live in Montana!
Do you want to learn more about bluebirds? If so, I have written a few other articles that you may enjoy! 🙂
Please let me know which bluebird species you have spotted before in the “Comments” section! 🙂
Bluebirds That Live in Montana (3)
*The range maps below 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!*
#1. Eastern Bluebird
Few birds are as pretty as an Eastern Bluebird. Thanks to their cheerful disposition and amazing beauty, these birds are always a pleasure to see, both for birders and non-birders alike!
Males are vibrant blue with a rusty chest and throat and fairly easy to identify. Females look similar, but the colors are much more subdued.
Eastern Bluebirds are found in eastern Montana in open areas.
Eastern Bluebird Range Map
Look for them in meadows, fields, cemeteries, golf courses, parks, backyards, and even Christmas tree farms!
The primary diet of these birds changes with the seasons. During warmer months, insects caught on the ground are their primary source of nutrition, such as beetles, crickets, and spiders. When bugs go away in winter, their diet switches to fruit and berries found on trees.
Can you attract Eastern Bluebirds to bird feeders?
The short answer is YES. You can attract these bluebirds to your backyard feeding station, as long as you make special provisions for them.
Here are two quick tips you can implement today!
#1. Provide foods that bluebirds will actually eat.
- Make sure you are providing insects (mealworms work great) and berries. Don’t expect an Eastern Bluebird to come to your backyard if you are only offering traditional birdseed.
#2. Choose bird feeders that bluebirds will actually use.
- You need to buy bird feeders that specialize in feeding the foods mentioned above (mealworms and berries)!
You can also listen for Eastern Bluebirds!
Press PLAY above to hear an Eastern Bluebird!
These birds have a beautiful call. Listen for a liquid sounding warbling song that consists of 1—3 notes, which is typically given several times in a row.
It was once rare to see Eastern Bluebirds in Montana!
Around 100 years ago, Eastern Bluebird populations started declining because of an extreme decrease in available nesting sites.
Here’s what happened:
Bluebirds are considered cavity nesters, which means they will only nest inside a fully enclosed cavity, except for the entrance hole. To complicate the issue, these birds are unable to make their own nest cavity. So in the wild, they only use holes in trees that were excavated by woodpeckers from seasons past.
And over time, the availability of nesting sites decreased for the following reasons:
Humans typically cut down dead, rotting trees.
- For aesthetic reasons, most people have dead trees cut down in their yard. But rotting trees are PERFECT for woodpeckers to excavate holes to build their nest cavities, which bluebirds use in subsequent years.
Old fence posts have been replaced with newer, hardier posts.
- Wooden fence posts used to be excellent nesting sites for bluebirds after woodpeckers would hollow out cavities. But most of these wooden posts have now been replaced by metal posts, wire, or treated wood, which is harder for woodpeckers to excavate holes inside because it does not decay easily.
House Sparrows and European Starlings were introduced from Europe!
- Both of these invasive birds use the same nesting cavities that bluebirds require. Unfortunately, both House Sparrows and European Starlings typically outcompete Eastern Bluebirds, driving them away, or even killing them.
But thanks to many dedicated people building nest boxes, bluebirds have recovered in eastern Montana!
The North American Bluebird Society has tirelessly promoted bluebird conservation to help bring public awareness to the nesting cavity issue, along with an incredible increase in knowledge about year-round requirements and behavior of all three bluebird species.
- RELATED: Bluebird Houses: The Definitive Guide (7 FREE Plans!)
#2. Western Bluebird
Look for these birds in Montana at the edge of forests or in open woodlands. Western Bluebirds are not often found in meadows and fields, similar to other bluebird species (Eastern and Mountain). 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 so they can 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
You can find Western Bluebirds in western Montana during summer.
Like all bluebird species, they only nest 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.
Press PLAY above to hear a Western Bluebird!
You should try listening for Western Bluebirds next time you are out. These birds make a soft call, which phonetically often sounds like “kew” that is repeated several times.
Western and Eastern Bluebirds are two distinct species, even though they look almost identical.
Here’s how to tell them apart:
Western vs. Eastern Bluebird
- Throat color: The male Eastern variety has a red-brown throat, while the Western is blue.
- Belly color: Eastern males have a white belly, but the Western is gray.
- Location: The ranges of Eastern and Western Bluebirds don’t overlap much, if at all. Knowing where each species lives should easily solve most identification mysteries.
#3. Mountain Bluebird
There are not many things more beautiful than seeing a Mountain Bluebird while hiking in the mountains. 🙂
It’s hard to mistake a Mountain Bluebird if you see one, especially the males, as they are covered with beautiful sky-blue feathers on their head, back, and wings. Females are a bit trickier since they are mostly gray-brown, with tinges of blue on their tail and wings.
Mountain Bluebird Range Map
In Montana, look for these bluebirds in open areas.
As their name suggests, Mountain Bluebirds are observed at elevations up to 12,500 feet during the breeding season. Once winter arrives, they typically fly down to lower elevations.
These birds are found in open areas, such as meadows, prairies, or pastures. They also enjoy habitat with a mix of grasses, shrubs, and trees, such as open woodlands, burned areas, or places that have had the forests thinned by logging.
Mountain Bluebirds feast on insects during warm months and switch their diet to mostly berries in winter. But unlike other bluebird species, they are excellent aerial hunters and routinely grab insects out of midair!
Try attracting Mountain Bluebirds with nest boxes!
These birds take readily to human-made nest boxes. Providing bluebirds with a suitable house is extremely helpful to them but also enjoyable for humans to watch!
Competition for nesting cavities is fierce for Mountain Bluebirds. Not only do they have to compete with each other, but also with Western Bluebirds, European Starlings, House Sparrows, House Wrens, and Tree Swallows.
In fact, finding a suitable nesting location is so important 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 Above! Next time you are in a mountain valley or meadow, keep your ears open and listen for a Mountain Bluebird!
Where have you seen bluebirds in Montana?
Leave a comment below!