From mountain to coast, the huge state of California offers a variety of habitats for different types of birds. While you may not see any of the eastern warblers here, California boasts some colorful buntings, bluebirds and several types of jay. In this article we will look at 15 blue birds in California to help you identify the species you are spotting.
15 Blue Birds in California
Some of the blue birds you’ll find in California include the California scrub jay, western bluebird, mountain bluebird, Steller’s jay, purple martin, tree swallow, blue grosbeak, belted kingfisher, barn swallow, pinyon jay, Woodhouse’s scrub jay, lazuli bunting, great blue heron, blue-gray gnatcatcher, and the black-billed magpie.
1. California Scrub Jay
Scientific Name: Aphelocoma californica
The California scrub jay is found in dry lowland areas throughout the Pacific seaboard. Look for them year-round in northern, coastal and central California, especially in areas with oak trees as they love acorns.
It is a lanky bird that is rich blue in color with a soft gray underside and a patch on their back that is either gray or brown. They are known for having a boisterous personality, both with frequent vocalizations and the way they bounce around and always seem to be cocking their heads.
You can attract them to your backyard feeders with the help of peanuts and sunflower seeds. They also like to build their nests in native shrubs that are dense or small native trees.
2. Mountain Bluebird
Scientific Name: Sialia currucoides
Mountain Bluebirds can be found throughout parts of the western United States, including certain areas of California. Their preferred habitat during the breeding season is open areas like meadows, prairies, mountain hillside and tundra edge. If you’re in the right place they will be easy to spot with their bright coloring and tendency to be out in the open and not overly fearful of humans.
The males are sky-blue in color that is darker on the top than on their underside. The females are mainly a pale gray with hints of blue on their wings and tail.
3. Western Bluebird
Scientific Name: Sialia mexicana
The male Western bluebird features a shiny blue top and blue throat, and a rust-colored “vest” that extends from their chest, over the shoulder and onto the upper back. While the female of the species has basically the same coloration, she is much more muted and more of a bluish-gray.
The Western bluebird is seen year round in the northern portions of the state, and during winter along the southern coast. Some that spend the summer at high elevations will move to lower elevations for the winter months. They feed on various insects and berries, and you can often find their nests in cavities, such as tree holes.
4. Steller’s Jay
Scientific Name: Cyanocitta stelleri
Steller’s jay is often seen in the northern part of California and western coast where it nests in the high canopy of trees and consumes seeds, insects, nuts, berries and eggs. Their main habitat is evergreen forests, but they are also known to frequent campgrounds, parks and backyards in their range.
Adult Steller’s jays are half deep blue and half charcoal black. They have a tall head crest that they can extend or flatten. Along the coast they have blue streaks at the front of the crest, while in interior regions the streaks are white.
5. Purple Martin
Scientific Name: Progne subis
Purple martins are a large swallow that has a hooked bill and tapered wings. The males of the species are deep bluish purple in color with a brownish black tail and wings. The females are more chunky with a body covered in varying degrees of gray.
They breed along the coast of California before heading to South America for the winter. They are cavity nesters that use old woodpecker holes, although you may be able to attract them by putting up a specially designed purple martin house.
6. Tree Swallow
Scientific Name: Tachycineta bicolor
You can find the tree swallow in fields and wetlands throughout the state of California. This songbird are covered in bluish green feathers with a white belly and throat.
They are aerial foragers who snatch their prey, which is typically flying insects, from the air. Tree swallows nest in cavities, and you can encourage them to take up residency in your yard by putting nesting boxes along your property.
7. Blue Grosbeak
Scientific Name: Passerina caerulea
The blue grosbeak is found in the southern and eastern portions of California where it spends its breeding season. The males are stocky with a large bill. They are stunning with vibrant deep blue feathers and reddish brown wings.
Their thick, conical beak, which gives them their name, “grosbeak,” helps them feast on grasshoppers and crickets as well as grains. Females are a warm brown all over with hints of blue on their rump and wings.
8. Belted Kingfisher
Scientific Name: Megaceryle alcyon
The belted kingfisher has a particular silhouette that is easy to pick out. They have a bulky body with barley visible legs, a thick sword-like beak, short tail and big shaggy crest. Both sexes have a blue-gray head, wings, tail and upper chest. They have a white belly and white stripe around the throat. Females also have an orange band across the belly, giving them their “belted” name.
The best place to look for belted kingfishers is around lakes, streams, swamps, and large ponds where they dive for fish and other aquatic creatures. In the northern portion of California, the belted kingfisher can be spotted year-round, while in the southern half of the state you are only likely to see them during the non-breeding months.
9. Barn Swallow
Scientific Name: Hirundo rustica
Barn swallows are small birds that have a tawny underside with a cobalt blue top. They can be found throughout the state of California although aren’t common in the southeast, and are only present during the spring and summer. Find them gliding and swooping over meadows and bodies of water, catching insects in the air.
As their name suggests, barn swallows make their nests on rafters, cross beams, and eaves of barns, stables, and sheds. Their nests can also be found in culverts, bridges, and wharfs.
10. Pinyon Jay
Scientific name: Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus
Pinyon jays travel together in flocks where they constantly kaw at each other to keep in touch and communicate within the group. As their name suggests, the seeds of pinyon pine trees are their favorite food source. They are well known for hiding large quantities of these seeds to eat later, using their excellent memory to keep track of all their hiding places.
Both sexes look the same, a jay shaped body with no head crest. They are a bluish gray with slightly more vibrant blue on their head. Look for them mainly in eastern California where they remain year round in pinyon-juniper, oak and ponderosa pine woodland.
11. Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay
Scientific name: Aphelocoma woodhouseii
Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jays are only found along the far eastern border of California from Tahoe south. They specialize in the pinyon pine habitat, and have developed somewhat long and thin bills to better reach the pine nuts inside of pine cones. Woodhouse’s Scrub-Jay can look gray-blue or bright blue depending on the light. They have a white or gray underbelly and specks of white on their forehead and breast.
You may think they look a lot like the first bird on this list, the California Scrub-Jay, and you would be right. Until somewhat recently they were considered to be one species, but were split into two in 2016.
12. Lazuli Bunting
Scientific name: Passerina amoena
The sweet lazuli bunting can be found throughout much of California, with the exception of the southeastern corner, during the spring and summer months. Males have bright blue upperparts and heads, with an orange pach on the chest and a white belly. They also have a large white wingbar. Females look completely different and are simply a pale, warm brown all over. Although they sometimes show hints of blue on their wings and tails.
These buntings eat insects, berries and seeds, and are known to visit backyard feeders for millet. Their preferred habitat is brushy areas, thickets and field edges, especially near streams.
13. Great Blue Heron
Scientific Name: Ardea herodias
The great blue heron uses its long legs to hunt for food by walking through shallow water. This common heron species can be found throughout most of California year-round. They’re the largest herons in North America, standing about 4.5 feet tall.
They have grayish-blue feathers, a white face and large yellow beak. Great blue herons inhabit many types of freshwater and saltwater habitats, stalking their prey by walking slowly or standing still until the time is right to strike with their sharp beak.
14. Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Scientific Name: Polioptila caerulea
The small, active blue-gray gnatcatcher has a bluish-gray upper parts, pale underparts, a white eye ring, black tail with white outer feathers, and a black “eyebrow” that gives them a bit of a grumpy look. Their tail is typically pointing upwards when this bird is perched on a branch or other object, like a wren.
This tiny bird is constantly moving, flitting around branches, leaves and buds to find insects. Look for them moving energetically through the trees in the spring and summer months when they come to California to breed. Some do remain year-round along the southwestern coast and along the southern border.
15. Black-billed Magpie
Scientific name: Pica hudsonia
The black-billed magpie has the shape of a jay but the size of a crow. Black head, chest and back, bright white shoulder and sides, metallic blue along their wings and their long tail. They have a varied diet of fruit, grain, insects, small mammals, carrion and eggs. These flashy birds aren’t shy and are often seen perched in trees or on fenceposts. They can be quite loud, especially in groups.
Black-billed magpies are year-round residents in northeastern California, preferring open areas such as grasslands and plains. The yellow-billed magpie can also be found in California, and looks extremely similar except with a bright yellow beak. Although they tend to have less blue coloring.