How to Identify a Mountain Bluebird

Updated: Nov. 02, 2023

This species is the state bird of Idaho and Nevada. It’s not hard to see why mountain bluebirds are among the West’s most sought-after birds.

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Mountain Bluebird Bmb0032Bill Leaman
Male mountain bluebird in a lilac bush

While robins are classic harbingers of spring, birding enthusiasts in parts of the West welcome the season with the return of the mountain bluebirds. You can attract them with nest boxes, mealworms and more.

Follow these proven tips to attract bluebirds.

What Do Male and Female Mountain Bluebirds Look Like?

Bnbbyc17 John Pizniur 2Courtesy John Pizniur
A male and female pair

Family: Thrush
Length: 7-1/4 inches
Wingspan: 14 inches
Distinctive Markings: Male mountain bluebird is brilliant blue all over, while the female is gray overall with pale-blue wing and tail feathers.

While both western and mountain bluebirds sport vibrant blue hues, male mountain bluebirds are a brilliant turquoise with paler blue and white plumage underneath. Females have blue wingtips, but their bodies are grayish brown. Neither male nor female mountain bluebirds have the chestnut breast coloration of the western bluebird.

Compared to eastern and western bluebirds, mountain bluebirds appear lighter and airier and they have longer wings and tails.

Don’t miss these 20 beautiful pictures of bluebirds.

What Do Mountain Bluebirds Eat?

mountain bluebirdCourtesy Michael Bradley
Mountain bluebird eating insects

If you live in their range and want to draw them in, Julie Steele of Golden Eagle Audubon in Idaho says, “Mountain bluebirds are particularly fond of mealworms, which can be fed in a shallow dish. Live ones are, of course, more attractive to the birds.” If you buy dried mealworms, Julie recommends rehydrating to make them more appealing. In addition to providing nest boxes and mealworms, cultivate a habitat that supports insects. It encourages mountain bluebirds to stay in your area and helps other insect-eating wild birds too.

Unlike other bluebird species, they can hover in one spot above their intended snack, gracefully beating their wings, for up to a minute before dropping down to grab and go. So while the other species perch on a fence or branch before dropping to the ground to pick up insects, mountain bluebirds can hover above the grass and watch for their tiny prey.

Check out the best bluebird feeders and feeding tips.

Nest and Eggs

Shutterstock 244738009Shutterstock / Tom Reichner
Mountain bluebird at a nesting cavity in a ponderosa pine tree

“They are cavity nesters and use a combination of nest boxes and natural cavities that have been excavated primarily by woodpeckers,” says Megan Fylling, avian ecologist at the University of Montana’s Bird Ecology Lab. The males are seasonally monogamous with females. It’s the females who ultimately select the nesting site and build a loose cup-shaped nest. The female lays four to six light-blue eggs inside the nest.

To attract a pair, place a nest box with the correct dimensions on a fence post in an open area. Mount it at least 5 feet in the air and be sure to use predator guards to provide critical protection from intruders. Unfortunately, European starlings and house sparrows will kill mountain bluebird fledglings and even adults for access to a nest box. To protect bluebirds, add a metal hole guard to keep out starlings. If you see house sparrows inside, immediately remove their nesting materials.

You’ll love these too-cute photos of baby bluebirds.

Mountain Bluebird Song

mountain bluebirdCourtesy Lyn Christoffer
Mountain bluebird at Custer State Park in South Dakota

Listen to the mountain bluebird’s song. Their voice sounds similar to the eastern bluebird’s song, but slightly higher pitched.

Bird songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Bluebird vs blue jay: Here’s how to tell the difference.

Mountain Bluebird Range Map and Habitat

A mountain bluebird perches on a tree during a winter snowstorm.Courtesy Laurie Normandeau
Mountain bluebirds typically migrate south for winter

Despite their name, mountain bluebirds are not just creatures of high elevations.

Migrating from their winter range as far south as Mexico, mountain bluebirds travel northward to Alaska and the Yukon Territory and east to the Dakotas and Manitoba.

In summer, they can be found in meadows above the timberline of western mountains, and on lowland prairies as far east as the Dakotas and as far north as Alaska. In winter, they move in flocks through the Southwest and the southern Great Plains.

Look for them in areas with short grasses and scattered trees at elevations up to 12,500 feet. “They like open areas, grasslands and farmlands,” says Jane Brockway, president of Mountain Bluebird Trails. Their habitat needs differ from their closest relative, the western bluebird, although sometimes they do flock together.

As the most strongly migratory bluebirds, they stray out of range and have been spotted in almost all the eastern states.

Mountain Bluebird Bird Species

Range maps provided by Kaufman Field Guides, the official field guide of Birds & Blooms.

Next, find out what it means when you see a bluebird.