What Is That … Blue(ish) Bird?

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Waddells

We have observed a diversity of blue(ish) plumage at the cottage, although the common name of these birds does not always include the word ‘blue’.   Not surprisingly, it can be very challenging to photograph blue(ish)-coloured birds when they are most often found with the blue sky or blue-coloured water in the background.  That said, we have had some photographic success and wanted to share these images and some information about these birds.

The blue jay (Cyanocitta cristata) is the only year-round resident of the birds pictured in this article.  Most people are familiar with this bird either through hearing and observing it in the wild or watching baseball on television.  They are common in wooded areas where they feed year-round on nuts, berries, and seeds, and when available insects, frogs, spiders, and snails.  The male and female have similar colouring and can grow to 30 centimetres in length and weigh up to 85 grams.  The wings, head, crest, and tail are bright blue with white and black markings; the undersides are light grey.  These pictures were taken in July and October.

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For the past six years since Bruce’s retirement, we have spent the entire summer at the cottage but 2016 was the first year we succeeded in photographing an indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea). The indigo bunting is a small sparrow-like bird, measuring up to 14 centimetres in length and weighing 14.5 grams.  The male has bright blue plumage with dark wings and tail while the female can be easily mistaken for a sparrow due to its overall cinnamon to grey-brown colour.  They nest in open bushy areas and feed on insects, grains, berries and seeds.  This male was singing high up in a dead tree, presumably to defend his breeding territory against other males.

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The belted kingfisher (Ceryle alcyon) is a bluish-grey bird with a ragged head crest, a long sharp beak and a white breast.  Both sexes are similar in appearance except the male has a blue band across its breast while the female has both a blue and a rust-coloured band across her breast.  Adults can range from 28 to 38 centimetres in length and weigh up to 150 grams.  They feed primarily on small fish, which they capture in their bills by plunge-diving headfirst into shallow waters, but their diet may also include frogs, crayfish and large flying insects.  When out paddling, we often see them in the distance perched on branches overhanging the water from which they search for food, but they usually fly off to another perch before we can get very close.  They are the only member of the fish-eating kingfisher family (Alcedinidae) found in Canada.  Pictured below are a female (top) and a male (bottom) perched on branches over the water.

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You may recall the pictures in our September 18, 2016 article of a grey-blue-coloured heron, the great blue heron (Ardea herodias).  While we think of it as a grey-coloured bird, grey-blue under the right lighting conditions, we have included it in this article since blue is part of its name.  With this year’s mild fall we still had a few individuals around the lake at the end of October.

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A quick review of Domm’s field guide identified several other Ontario birds that include ‘blue’, or a synonym, in their common name.  These include: blue-grey gnatcatcher; blue-headed vireo; blue-winged teal; blue-winged warbler; cerulean warbler; and eastern blue bird.  We did not  include pictures of these birds in this article as we have not observed and successfully photographed any of them at our cottage thus far … but we continue to be on the look-out for these other blue(ish) birds.

We obtained much of our information about blue(ish) birds from Domm’s Lorimer Field Guide to 225 Ontario Birds; The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America; McKeatings’ Birds of Ottawa and Vicinity; and, The Canadian Wildlife Federation’s Shorelines…a festival of life.