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

Missouri is the 21st largest state by area and the 19th most populous. It is well known for it's diverse landscapes, which attract many different types of wildlife. The state animal for Missouri is the Missouri Mule, but what is the state bird?

The state of Missouri chose the Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis), as the state bird in 1927. The bird, whose numbers had dwindled in the 1950s, now makes homes in nesting boxes throughout the state. The tiny songbird is known for its musical qualities.

The state bird of Missouri, the Eastern Bluebird.

The state bird of Missouri, the Eastern Bluebird.

Why is the Eastern Bluebird the state bird for Missouri?

The state of Missouri adopted the Eastern Bluebird as its state bird because the avian proves "common in Missouri" and provides "a symbol of happiness" with its cheerful song. As naturalist Henry David Thoreau wrote, the bluebird "carries the sky on its back." The state so loves the bluebird that birdhouses built for it dot the landscape at regular intervals. Driving through the countryside in Missouri, you’ll see the bird flitting from one fencepost to the next in spring and hear its "cheer-cheery up" song.

When did the Eastern Bluebird become the state bird for Missouri?

On March 30, 1927, the Missouri legislature passed legislation naming the Eastern Bluebird the Missouri State Bird. The Eastern Bluebird also serves as the official bird of the state of New York.

Female Eastern Bluebird

Female Eastern Bluebird

What does the state bird of Missouri look like?

The Eastern bluebird typically grows to a length of six to seven inches, as measured form head to tail. A light blue, glossy plumage covers its upper body, buts its breast downy comes in cinnamon red during spring and summer but turns a rust hue during autumn. On the female, the feathers take on a leaden tint on the upper body, but the neck and sides appear a yellow-brown color. Their coloring in this area is duller than on the male. Their stomach is pure white. Their feet and bill are black.

The bluebird has a wingspan measuring 10 inches. These birds weigh about the same as other songbirds - from 0.84 to 1.09 ounces.

Eastern Bluebird in flight

Eastern Bluebird in flight

How do these birds behave?

The migratory eastern bluebird typically resides in Missouri from early spring until late November. It builds its home in rural areas, including meadows, open fields, and large yards.

The sings a cheerful song regularly. Under normal circumstances, it is non-aggressive. Rather than building a new nest, these resourceful birds often nest in old woodpecker holes. They prefer those found in dead oak or pine or trees. While most birds make a nest on the ground or up to ten feet in the air, the bluebird prefers the penthouse apartment of the forest and makes its home nearly 50 feet in the air.

The Eastern Bluebird becomes aggressive when it enters its nesting season. It will attack other birds if they approach. That includes bird much larger than itself, such as chickens and roosters. Bluebird couples begin courtship in March. Their March madness includes a tender, affectionate courtship. The male sings to his potential mate and woos her with various manly poses. He will flutter before her with his wings spread and tail feathers spread. They will perch closely and preen each other’s feathers. The male will feed the female.

Once the chicks are born, both parents forage food for them. They bring food to the chicks. If the parents already had other broods that still live at home, these older chicks will also help feed the hatchlings. They reach fledgling stage at about 18 to 19 days and venture out of the nest on their own.

A flock of bluebirds in a bird bath

A flock of bluebirds in a bird bath

Do Eastern Bluebirds form communities?

The monogamous Eastern Bluebird couples, go from social to anti-social when it becomes time to make a family. The Bluebird typically flies with a flock of about 100 other birds, but when it becomes amorous, the couple keep to themselves. If you see these birds in other states, you learn that their breeding occurs at different times of the year depending on the location. For example, in Florida, they breed in January, in Pennsylvania in mid-April, in Maine in June, but the Missouri bluebird breeds in March.

The couple builds a nest with the female taking the lead. They search for a nesting box or a convenient hole. Upon breeding, the female lays between four to six pale blue eggs. These loving birds breed two or three times per year and raise the two or three broods that year. The male minds the first nest with its’ newborns while the female incubates the second set of eggs.

Eastern Bluebird with caterpillar

Eastern Bluebird with caterpillar

What do Eastern Bluebirds eat?

Bluebirds forage on the ground, dining on a mix of insects, fruits, and seeds. Some of the bluebirds’ favorite foods include caterpillars, spiders, Coleoptera, and many types of insects. When insect hunting, the bird alights on the bark of trees. Many of the insects they eat provide beneficial to farmers since they would otherwise attack crops.

These birds will dine on large fruit that you generally would not associate with a small bird. Their love of grapes may seem in line with their size, but the bluebird will also munch on the much larger fruits of figs and persimmons. In fall, they make a meaty diet from the numerous grasshoppers in the area.

During winter and spring they may seem to follow a farmer around, but it is really the land the farmer ploughs that interests the bird, not the farmer. The bird lets the farmer do the work for them of turning the earth which reveals all manner of insects. Although the birds do have favorite bugs, they will typically eat any insects unearthed by the plough.

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