15 Types Of BLUE BIRDS In California (ID Guide With Photos)
Did you see a blue-colored bird in California? In that case you’ll probably want to know what species you saw.
To help you identify the bird you saw, we’ll cover all the types of blue birds that can be seen in California.
We’ll show you the birds of California that are either entirely or partially blue, and will also cover where you can expect to find these birds.
What types of birds are blue in California?
The 15 types of blue-colored birds found in California are:
- Western Bluebird
- Mountain Bluebird
- California Scrub Jay
- Steller’s Jay
- Pinyon Jay
- Lazuli Bunting
- Indigo Bunting
- Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
- Barn Swallow
- Tree Swallow
- Purple Martin
- Belted Kingfisher
- Great Blue Heron
- Little Blue Heron
- Blue Grosbeak
Out of these 15 birds, only one species is entirely blue (the Mountain Bluebird), while the others are partially blue colored birds.
Now let’s dive into the details, and take a closer look at each of these birds in order to get the full scoop:
Scientific name: Sialia mexicana
The Western Bluebird is the most common bluebird species found in California.
It is a breeding bird and year-round resident in large areas of California, and also occurs in other parts of the state during the winter season.
Male Western Bluebirds have a deep shade of vibrant blue on their heads and backs, which contrasts with reddish orange feathers on the chest.
Female and juvenile birds on the other hand, have more subdued hues, with gray-brown upperparts and a lighter gray underside.
While Western Bluebirds are migratory birds in northern parts of their range, they are permanent residents in the Golden State.
These birds nest in treeholes or nestboxes, but have suffered from the competition with House Sparrows and European Starlings, which are more aggressive and chase bluebirds away from their nest sites.
The population of Western Bluebirds underwent a dramatic decline at the end of last century, due to lack of nesting holes and competition with European Starlings.
However, thanks to the efforts of numerous California citizens providing nest boxes for Western Bluebirds, these birds are a common sight in California once more.
Scientific name: Sialia currucoides
The Mountain Bluebird is generally found in more montane habitats than the former species, but the two types of bluebirds sometimes overlap in their distribution.
Adult males are almost entirely cerulean blue, except for their pale cream colored belly. The blue plumage is darker on the back, and lighter on the chest.
Females are buff gray, except for a light blue rump and wing feathers.
This is the only entirely blue bird found in California
These birds breed in northern California, and can be found there throughout the year.
During winter they occur in other areas of the state, and sometimes visit bird feeders offering berries or mealworms.
Mountain Bluebirds readily accept nestboxes, and so can be attracted to nest in your backyard.
However, you may need to put up several boxes, as they are often displaced by more aggressive bird species.
Scientific name: Aphelocoma californica
The California Scrub-Jay was called the Western Scrub Jay until a few years ago, and was thought to belong to a single species that occurs throughout the western United States.
However, in 2016 it was split into two different species, the California Scrub Jay (found along the Pacific Coast), and the Woodhouse’s Scrub Jay (found further inland). The population in California belongs to the former species.
This bird is the most widespread jay species in the Golden State, and is a common bird throughout California, except for the Mojave Desert.
Adult males and females look the same, and have an azure blue upper head, wings, and tail, as well as dark gray shoulders and a light gray belly. The largely blue body contrasts with a white throat streaked with gray.
These jays are year-round residents that can be encountered in a variety of lightly wooded habitats and shrubland.
Scientific name: Cyanocitta stelleri
Steller’s Jay is a medium-sized member of the jay family, and is easily recognized due to the dark blue body combined with its striking crest.
It is a common breeding bird in northern California, but is absent from the more arid areas in the south, including the Mojave Desert.
Both males and females look similar, and have a dark gray to blackish head, nape, and upper back, while the rest of the body is dark admiral blue.
While it is found year-round within its breeding range, in some years Steller’s Jays undertake irruptive movements towards the south, and show up in areas where they normally don’t occur.
Scientific name: Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus
The Pinyon Jay is an almost entirely bright blue songbird that doesn’t look much like a jay, due to its slender body and thin bill.
Adult males and females look the same and are light blue all over, with the darkest hues found around the head region, and the palest on the belly.
The Pinyon Jay is a rare breeding bird in mountainous areas of western California that have pinyon-juniper woods.
However if you do find a Pinyon Jay, there are probably more of them nearby, as they like to nest in colonies containing dozens of pairs.
It feeds on pine seeds as well as insects and fruits depending on the season.
Scientific name: Passerina amoena
The Lazuli Bunting is a gorgeous songbird of the western United States that visits and breeds in northern California during the summer.
The hood, neck, and rump of adult males are light blue, while the wings are dark gray with a white wingbar. Males also have a chestnut orange breast and a white belly throughout the summer months.
Females are buff-brown in color with black wings and a pale blue rump.
The Lazuli Bunting may be found in northern California during the breeding season, which runs from May to August, before migrating to Mexico for the winter.
Scientific name: Passerina cyanea
The Indigo Bunting is a strikingly colored small songbird. During the summer, the male is almost entirely indigo blue, except for darker brownish wingtips and tail feathers.
Females and juvenile birds are more inconspicuous, with light brown upperparts, and creamy white underparts.
The Indigo Bunting is rare in California, where it only occurs in the southeastern part of the state at forest edges, gardens, and parks. In areas where it occurs, it will readily visit bird feeders that offer seeds.
This brilliant blue bird is most commonly seen at backyard bird feeders in spring, but not in summer, as it switches over from seeds to eating mostly insects during the summer.
During the breeding season, males of this bird can often be observed singing from a treetop perch.
This blue California bird is strictly migratory, and is only found in the Golden State during the summer. It winters in Central and South America, and migrates in small flocks during the fall migration.
Scientific name: Polioptila caerulea
Except for its long tail, the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher looks a lot like a warbler.
The upperparts of adult males are blue-gray, while their underparts are a lighter gray. The tail is black with a white stripe at the margins.
Adult females and immature birds are grayish on top, and light gray underparts. The eye of both sexes has a white eyering.
It may be encountered as a breeding bird in the temperate regions of North America, predominantly from early May through August.
This blue bird with white plumage is a partial migratory bird, with southeastern populations being year-round residents. Northern populations, however, spend the winter in the southern USA and Central America.
A great way to identify this bird is by its long tail that is often cocked upwards.
Scientific name: Hirundo rustica
The Barn Swallow inhabits nearly all of North America south of the Arctic circle and may be found in a wide variety of habitats.
This bird has iridescent upperparts that shimmer in various shades of dark blue when the sunlight hits them.
Its underside is reddish-orange, including a chestnut orange forehead and throat, as well as a light reddish-orange belly.
The deeply forked tail of Barn Swallows is another great feature you can use to identify this bird.
However, keep in mind that immature barn swallows have a duller plumage than adults, as well as a shorter tail that is less forked.
The Barn Swallow used to nest in caves and hollow trees, but nowadays it prefers to do so beneath the overhangs of buildings and bridges, as well as inside barns (which explains how this bird got its name).
These California swallows are still a reasonably common sight in most areas. However, the overall numbers of Barn Swallows have been steadily decreasing, especially in the northern section of their range.
This decline is likely a result of the loss of foraging areas and nesting opportunities.
The Barn Swallow feeds on flying insects, such as mosquitoes and flies, and catches them closer to the ground than other species of swallows. In its winter quarters this bird also feeds on termites.
It is a strictly migratory bird, and spends the winter in Central and Southern America.
Scientific name: Progne subis
The Purple Martin is the largest martin in North America. The male is almost entirely dark purplish blue with an iridescent sheen. The wings and tail are black.
Juvenile birds and females are light gray on top, with beige white underparts. The male Purple Martin is the only martin species that doesn’t have a light colored belly.
While these blue-colored birds originally built their nest in tree cavities, they have switched over to using man-made nesting sites instead.
The Purple Martin likes to nest in colonies, which often comprise dozens of pairs. It is a skilled aerial hunter, and feeds mostly on dragonflies.
Similar to other species of swallows, the Purple Martin drinks in flight, by skimming the surface of a body of water.
This bird is a strictly migratory species and spends the winter in South America. It congregates in large roosts in fall, which fly south together.
The best way to attract these gorgeous blue birds to your yard is by putting up a Purple Martin house in your backyard,
Scientific name: Megaceryle alcyon
The Belted Kingfisher looks superficially similar to a Blue Jay, due to its grayish blue upperside.
However, the Belted Kingfisher is darker than a Jay, and is also more likely to be found close to water.
Adult male Belted Kingfishers are almost entirely teal blue on top, except for a white collar that separates the cap from the rest of the body.
They also have a grayish chest band, and a white belly. Females can be distinguished from males by their rufous orange flanks.
The Belted Kingfisher prefers habitats directly adjacent to lakes and rivers, where it hunts for fish by diving headfirst into the water.
This blue bird is a partial migratory bird, but can be seen year round in southern parts of its range, including California.
During harsh winters, northern Belted Kingfishers migrate to southern parts of the United States.
This blue-colored bird of California feeds almost exclusively on small fish, and is therefore rarely seen far away from water.
Great Blue Heron
Scientific name: Ardea herodias
The Great Blue Heron is one of the most common herons in California, where it can be seen year round.
This large California bird has a wingspan of up to 6 feet. It is almost entirely blue gray, except for a white throat and eye stripe, as well as dark gray wing feathers.
This bird likes to hunt for small fish and other aquatic animals by wading in the shallows of lakes, marshes and ponds.
This bird waits patiently for a suitably sized fish to come close enough to be grabbed with its long, yellow bill.
This blue bird also forages on meadows, golf courses and grassy areas, where it stalks rodents. It is a non-migratory bird, and can be seen in California all year round.
However, it requires open water in order to catch fish, and northern birds will fly to southern states if the winter is very cold.
Little Blue Heron
Scientific name: Egretta caerulea
While adult Little Blue Herons are slate blue, young birds are entirely white during their first year.
Juvenile birds can be distinguished from other white herons by their dark pointy bill and green legs.
These small herons are very rare breeding birds in California, and only occur in a small isolated population in the southernmost part of the state.
And while these birds are migratory in northern parts of their range, the California population of Little Blue Herons are year-round residents.
These birds feed on small fish, mollusks and crustaceans, with crayfish forming a large part of their diet.
They prefer an aquatic habitat, where these birds hunt in the shallows, and are rarely seen away from water.
Scientific name: Passerina caerulea
The Blue Grosbeak is a beautiful songbird that has a large beak that is shaped like a cone.
The adult males are almost entirely dark blue in color, except for two chestnut-brown wingbars and black feathers on their face.
Females, on the other hand, are brownish gray with pale underparts. This grosbeak is a breeding visitor in the southern half of California, but migrates to Central America to spend the winter.
The preferred habitat of this bird is shrubland and grassland interspersed with dense bushes.
What are the blue-colored jays in California?
The most widespread blue-colored jays in California are California Scrub-Jays, though Steller’s Jays are also common in northern parts of the state.
In some areas of the Golden State you could also be looking at either Pinyon Jays, which are also blue colored, but only found in southeastern parts of California.
If you’re not sure which species of jay you saw, refer to our detailed ID guide above, which has photos of all these species.
What are the blue and black birds in California?
The blue and black birds in California are Steller’s Jays, which have a dark brownish-black head and back, while the rest of their body is deep admiral blue.
Steller’s Jays are birds of evergreen coniferous forests in the mountainous areas of northern California, where they are year-round residents.
If you enjoyed this article, check out our guide to the yellow birds of California.