11 Types Of BLUE BIRDS In Illinois (ID Guide With Photos)
Been in Illinois recently and saw a beautiful streak of blue? In that case, you probably want to know what blue-colored bird you saw.
But identifying blue birds in Illinois is not as easy as it might seem, since there are more than ten birds in Illinois that are entirely or partially blue!
If you aren’t sure what blue-colored bird you saw in Illinois, we’ll help you cover the possibilities here in this article.
What types of blue birds can you see in Illinois?
The 11 types of blue birds found in Illinois are:
- Indigo Bunting
- Eastern Bluebird
- Blue Jay
- Barn Swallow
- Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
- Cerulean Warbler
- Black-throated Blue Warbler
- Tree Swallow
- Purple Martin
- Belted Kingfisher
- Great Blue Heron
Out of these 11 bird species, only one species is entirely blue (the Indigo Bunting), while the others are partially blue birds.
Now let’s dive into the details, and take a closer look at each of these blue-colored birds in order to get the full scoop:
Scientific name: Passerina cyanea
The Indigo Bunting is a brightly colored small finch. 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 a relatively common bird in Illinois at forest edges, gardens, and parks, and will readily visit bird feeders that offer seeds.
This is the only entirely blue bird found in Illinois
This blue bird is most commonly seen at bird feeders in spring, as it switches over from seeds to eating mostly insects during the summer.
During the breeding season, males can often be observed singing from a treetop perch.
This blue bird is a strict migratory bird, and is only found in Illinois during the summer. It winters in Central and South America, and migrates in small flocks during the fall migration.
Indigo Bunting song:
(Source: Bobby Wilcox, XC738695, www.xeno-canto.org/738695)
Scientific name: Sialia sialis
The upperparts of adult male Eastern Bluebirds are a rich shade of admiral blue. The blue coloration of these birds also extends to their wings, tail, and the back of their heads.
The partial orange collar of males creates the impression of having a cap on their head. Male bluebirds have a prominent orange chest, with shades of warm-toned rufous brown.
The upperparts of adult females have a more grayish-brown color. However, females also have blue tail feathers and wing feathers, as well as a rufous-orange chest and flanks.
It is a migratory bird in the northern part of its range, but can be seen year-round in the southern part of the United States. Northern populations winter in Mexico.
The Eastern Bluebird nests in holes, and competes with House Sparrows and European Starlings for nesting sites.
During their fall migration, they can be seen in flocks that like to feed on fruits and berries.
The population of Eastern Bluebirds underwent a dramatic decline at the end of last century, due to lack of nesting holes and competition with European Starlings.
But largely thanks to the efforts of numerous Illinois citizens providing nest boxes for Eastern Bluebirds, these beautiful birds are a common sight once more.
Eastern Bluebird song:
You might recognize their “tu-a-weeI” song next time you’re out walking. Just keep an ear out for a low-pitched, soft song.
(Source: Christopher McPherson, XC638302, www.xeno-canto.org/638302)
Scientific name: Cyanocitta cristata
A common blue-colored bird throughout Illinois, the Blue Jay prefers open areas with scattered trees and shrubs, especially those with dense undergrowth.
These medium-sized blue birds are grayish blue on top, with bright arctic blue wing feathers and tail feathers. Their underparts are light gray.
Blue Jays are social birds that live in small groups called colonies, with each colony containing one dominant pair and several subordinate members.
Dominant male birds defend their territory against intruders and aggressively chase away subordinates. Subordinate females and young birds are tolerated but not protected.
This is the most common blue bird found in Illinois
These birds are opportunistic feeders. They eat fruit, invertebrates, small vertebrates, and carrion, and also steal food from other animals.
During the summer, insects make up the largest part of their diet. They sometimes catch insects in flight, while at other times, they catch insects at ground level using a variety of techniques.
These blue-colored birds often use man made structures such as buildings, bridges, and telephone poles for foraging.
When hunting for food, jays often run along branches or wires before swooping down to capture prey.
Blue Jays are partially migratory birds, but can be seen in Illinois all year round. During the cold season they sometimes move around to areas with a more plentiful supply of food.
If you want to attract Blue Jays to your bird feeder, it’s best to offer them peanuts or sunflower seeds.
Blue Jay call:
(Source: Thomas Ryder Payne, XC721247, www.xeno-canto.org/721247)
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.
It has iridescent blue 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 it got its name).
Barn 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 it also feeds on termites.
It is a strictly migratory bird, and spends the winter in Central and Southern America.
Barn Swallow sound:
(Source: William Whitehead, XC741615, www.xeno-canto.org/741615)
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Scientific name: Setophaga caerulescens
The male and female Black-throated Blue Warblers have plumages that are notably unlike one another.
During the summer, adult males have mostly dark blue upperparts, black wings, and a white patch at the base of the primary feathers on their wings.
There is a clear demarcation between the white underparts and the blue upper parts, which is due to a line of black feathers.
In contrast to this, females and juvenile birds are grayish green on top, and pale yellow on the bottom.
During the months of May through August, the Black-throated Blue Warbler may be encountered nesting in the northern and central regions of North America.
It is a strict migratory bird, and spends the rest of its year in the Caribbean.
These warblers feed on insects most of the year, but also include berries in their diet during fall.
Black-throated Blue Warbler song:
(Source: Christopher McPherson, XC690996, www.xeno-canto.org/690996)
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 rayish on top, and light gray underparts. The eye of both sexes has a white eyering.
The Blue-gray Gnatcatcher may be encountered as a breeding bird in the temperate regions of North America, predominantly from early May through August.
It 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.
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher song:
(Source: Thomas Magarian, XC378598), www.xeno-canto.org/378598)
Scientific name: Setophaga cerulea
The Cerulean Warbler is a gorgeous songbird, but its population has steadily declined over the decades, and it is now classified as endangered.
The upperparts of adult males are baby blue, and their underparts are largely white.
The flanks are marked with a number of black streaks, and the wings have two white wing bars on the secondaries.
In contrast to the male, the blue portions of an adult female’s plumage are replaced with a greenish hue, although the sexes otherwise look similar.
The Cerulean Warbler is a rare breeding bird in southern Illinois, and migrates to South America to spend the winter.
Its numbers have been declining steadily due to loss of habitat, and so is in need of strict conservation efforts.
Cerulean Warbler sound:
(Source: Aidan Place, XC558054, www.xeno-canto.org/558054)
Scientific name: Tachycineta bicolor
The Tree Swallow is relatively common in Illinois, and is most often found close to lakes, marshes, and ponds.
Adult Tree Swallows are greenish blue on top, and have buff white underparts. Their feathers are iridescent, and change color when viewed in direct sunlight.
While adult females look similar to adult males, young birds are more grayish brown with a white underside.
This swallow readily accepts suitable nesting boxes, which gives you an opportunity to attract this attractive blue-colored bird to your backyard.
This blue bird feeds exclusively on insects that it catches in the air, and as a strict insectivore it is a long distance migrant that only spends the summer in Illinois.
Tree Swallows winter around the Gulf of Mexico, as well as in Central America.
Tree Swallow sound:
(Source: Ted Floyd, XC423481, www.xeno-canto.org/423481)
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 blue 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,
Purple Martin sound:
(Source: Timothy Marquardt, XC734889, www.xeno-canto.org/734889)
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 blue 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-colored bird is a partial migratory bird, and can be seen year round in Illinois as long as there is open water in which it can fish.
During harsh winters, the Belted Kingfisher migrates to the southern parts of the United States.
This blue bird feeds almost exclusively on small fish, and is therefore rarely seen far away from water.
Belted Kingfisher sound:
(Source: Christopher McPherson, XC638295, www.xeno-canto.org/638295)
Great Blue Heron
Scientific name: Ardea herodias
The Great Blue Heron is one of the most common herons in Illinois, where it can be seen year round.
This heron is a very large blue bird with 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 large blue bird likes to hunt for small fish by wading in the shallows of lakes, marshes and ponds.
It 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 fields and grassland, where it stalks rodents. It is a non-migratory bird, and stays in Illinois all year round.
However, it requires open water in order to catch fish, and will fly to southern states if the winter is very cold.
Great Blue Heron sound:
(Source: James Link, XC582377, www.xeno-canto.org/582377)
What are small blue birds in Illinois?
The Indigo Bunting is the only small bird in Illinois that is entirely blue. It is a small finch species that likes to visit bird feeders that offer seeds.
During summer, male Indigo Buntings can be heard singing at the top of their voices from treetops.
The only other small bird in Illinois that is mostly blue is the Eastern Bluebird, but this blue-colored bird can be readily distinguished from the Indigo Bunting by its rufous orange chest and belly.