What is the State Bird of Idaho? (And Why?)

Idaho is the 14th largest state and the 38th most populous state in the United States. This state is home to some of the most unspoilt landscapes and most importantly is home to the Snake River, which flows out from Yellowstone National Park. So, what is the state animal for Idaho?

The state of Idaho chose the Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides), also called the bluebird, as the state bird in 1931. This thrush, known for its spectacular azure blue breast, comes in two varieties – the male with blue and white feathers or the female with brown and blue feathers.

The state bird of Idaho, the Mountain Bluebird

The state bird of Idaho, the Mountain Bluebird

Why is the Mountain Bluebird the state bird for Idaho?

The mountain bluebird resides in Idaho year-round. The federal government designated this bird with protected status. It has been losing nesting sites due to pesticide use and the loss of old trees.

When did the Mountain Bluebird become the state bird for Idaho?

The Idaho General Assembly adopted the bird through legislation on February 28, 1931, citing it as a symbol of hope, happiness, and love. Schoolchildren in the state had suggested the bird. In Native American lore, the bluebird appears as an omen and an advisor. Idaho shares the mountain bluebird as a state bird with Nevada.

This bird isn’t to be confused with its cousin, the eastern bluebird, which serves as the state bird of Missouri and New York.

Close up of a Mountain Bluebird

Close up of a Mountain Bluebird

What does the state bird of Idaho look like?

The male mountain bluebird features an azure blue head and back with a white or bluish-white stomach. The female mountain bluebird features a brown back, stomach, and head with blue wings, tail, and rump. You can spot them in flight by their unique zig-zag flight pattern.

From head to tail, the mountain bluebird measures an average of six inches, but those in Idaho can grow up to seven inches in length. Its wingspan ranges from 11 to 14 inches. These little birds don’t weigh much – only about one ounce.

Female Mountain Bluebird

Female Mountain Bluebird

How do these birds behave?

These breathtaking birds prefer wide-open spaces. They also differ from other birds in that they enjoy colder weather, so they winter in the same spot that they summer.

They prefer the higher ground, typically living at an elevation of about 5,000 feet. They will willingly live at an elevation of up to 12,000 feet during summer. During winter, they may relocate to the state’s valleys or to sea level. Although the mountains provide its favorite stomping grounds, it will live in the foothills or the lowlands when food becomes scarce. It also proliferates the Idaho ranchlands.

With respect to choosing where to live, the birds split the work. The male chooses an area, while the female picks out the materials and builds the nest. The male must choose his territory first, then win the heart and logical mind of the female. These smart birds won’t pair with a male who settles in a bad area. The female bluebird prioritizes safety.

Once they choose one another, these birds remain monogamous. The male chooses his breeding territory and begins loudly singing to attract females. You will note his song at sunrise. The bird sings until an appropriate female notices him and flies into his territory. At this time, he encourages her to look at the available nesting sites by waving, flapping his wings at a moderate speed, and poking his head in and out of nesting holes. When she chooses the home site out of the neighborhood he chose, they begin to make their home. At this time, they begin copulating.

Although they both seemingly gather materials, he will drop his or simply flit back and forth, watching the female bird constructs the home. She does all of the construction work and “shops” for the materials. The male hunts for food and brings back meals to the under-construction nest. This species uses the mate feeding method of dining. The male hunts for the food then brings it to his wife, who he feeds from beak to beak. They copulate throughout the nest building so that the female can become pregnant and lay eggs as soon as the nest becomes complete.

Once she lays the eggs, incubation begins. This process takes 13 to 14 days, during which the female cares for the brood. The male hunts for food for the entire family and brings it back to the nest. The couple cleans the nest together daily. The bluebirds are known as a meticulous species.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

Do Mountain Bluebirds form communities?

Mountain bluebirds form nuclear family communities. Since they breed annually, they have many chicks during their lifetimes. These fledglings from prior broods live nearby and you can sometimes spot them helping to feed the newborns of their parents. Some birding websites joke that feeding time is “a family affair,” but in the case of these birds, that’s no joke. The older siblings pitch in and help out with their parents’ latest offspring who can’t leave the nest for the first 12 days of their lives.

Mountain bluebird nests may shock you. The meticulous nature of the species extends to its homemaking. While some species of birds dig a hole with their beak or pile grass, the mountain bluebird weaves a basket-like nest with hardy materials, such as pine needles, woven grass, straw, feathers, and hair. They will clean the materials before using them, so that no trash, such as cigarette butts, becomes a part of the nest.

These baskets have a depth of three to four inches and provide enough space for both parents and their eggs. Once they hatch, the nest also accommodates the growing baby birds. They make these nests inside an existing tree cavity, typically formed by a woodpecker who deserts its hole. This allows the bluebirds to hide inside the cavity which forms their house. Their nest is simply the bird version of a California king bed.

Mountain Bluebird eating insects

Mountain Bluebird eating insects

What do Mountain Bluebirds eat?

While building, the female says nothing when she’s hungry, she signals to her mate that he needs to go hunt by flicking her wings. These thrushes eat both meat and vegetation. Year-round, the couple dines on insects as well as berries, preferring elderberries and grapes. During fall and winter, they add other fruits to their diets.

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