The Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides) is a North American species specific to the western mountainous regions of Canada and the United States.
Populations can extend as far north as central Alaska during the breeding season and south to northern Mexico for winter.
During the breeding season, mountain bluebirds occur at surprisingly high elevations. They nest in montane meadows and aspen parklands throughout the Rocky Mountains and other ranges in western North America.
Winters are often too harsh for these birds to remain in their breeding territories, so they migrate south. Popular overwintering sites for the bluebird include the desert southwest and western Great Plains.
In this article, we will discuss the range and habitat of the mountain bluebird in greater detail. Read on to discover more!
Mountain Bluebirds can be found across the western mountainous regions of Canada and the United States
Mountain bluebirds are present across western North America. Their breeding distribution range stretches from central Alaska - although occurrences here are considered rare - and south throughout the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains of North America.
The bluebird's winter range varies from year to year but does expand farther south. Wintering grounds cover the Southwest from coastal southern California to the central Great Plains.
Mountain bluebirds also irregularly overwinter in Baja, California and northern Mexico.
Close up of a Mountain Bluebird perched on a wooden post
Mountain bluebirds are present throughout much of the western United States, except for the Pacific Northwest coast. Their breeding grounds stretch between the eastern slope of the Cascade mountains in Washington to the westernmost ends of North and South Dakota.
Their range expands south between the Sierra Nevada mountains and the Great Plains, barely touching the northwest corner of Nebraska and continuing along the foothills of the Front Range in Colorado.
The mountain bluebird is typically a year-round resident throughout the high-elevation regions of Nevada and around the Four Corners, including southern Utah, southern Colorado, northern Arizona, and northern New Mexico.
The bluebird's US wintering grounds expand further east into the Great Plains. Populations also cover the entirety of the Southwest, including occasional visitors in Baja, California.
Close up of a female Mountain Bluebird perched
Mountain bluebirds occur in seventeen western states between breeding and wintering grounds. Those include Washington and Oregon east of the Cascade crest. Distribution continues south into northern California along the southern Cascades and eastern slope of the Sierra Nevadas.
These bluebirds are only present in southern California during Winter.
Populations also occur extensively throughout Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming. Then they reach into the westernmost regions of North and South Dakota.
Moving south, the mountain bluebird resides in Colorado (west of the front range), Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico.
Wintering grounds include eastern Colorado and the western halves of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. The bluebird is also occasionally documented in central Alaska during the breeding season.
Male Mountain Bluebird pictured with a beak full of insects
Mountain bluebird populations occur throughout western Canada. They are primarily found in the southwest corner of the Yukon, east of the Coast Mountain ranges in British Columbia, in the southern halves of Alberta and Saskatchewan, and the southwest corner of Manitoba.
Mountain bluebirds are irregularly recorded in the northern Yukon territory, which would explain their occasional forays into Alaska.
Mountain bluebird habitat is exceptionally variable. Overall, they prefer open areas with low vegetation where suitable nesting trees are available. On a broader scale, this bluebird occurs everywhere from high-elevation alpine zones (Up to 14,000 ft) to lowland prairies and sagebrush flats.
At higher elevations, nests primarily occur in montane meadows with scattered trees or snags. Bluebirds never nest in dense conifer forests.
However, they are found in savannah-like habitats where conifers are more dispersed. They also like shrub-steppe habitats and aspen parklands.
During winter, the mountain bluebird is common amongst pinyon-juniper woodlands. They also occur in desert habitats, open grasslands, farmland, and agricultural areas.
Mountain Bluebirds generally prefer open areas with low vegetation where suitable nesting trees are available
Mountain bluebirds seemingly have no elevation limit during the breeding season. Nests are regularly recorded above 11,000 ft.
One nest was even discovered under the eve of a building on top of Pikes Peak in Colorado, at 14,000 ft.
Mountain bluebirds are common sites in western North America. During the breeding season, they generally occur in the foothills and high-elevation areas of various western mountain ranges. These birds are more common in the Southwest and Great Plains during winter.
Mountain Bluebird during spring in Yellowstone National Park, USA
The best places to see mountain bluebirds in the summer are the montane meadows and aspen parklands of the mountain west. Aspen trees are preferred nesting sites because they often already have cavities or are easy to excavate.
During winter, these bluebirds are more common in the Great Plains and the Southwest (particularly the Four Corners area).
Look for them amongst pinyon-juniper forests or open grasslands where winter berries are abundant.
Mountain bluebirds are active during the day. You may find them foraging where berries are plentiful or perched in or near the cavity where they nest.
Mountain Bluebirds are diurnal, which means they're predominately active during the day
The mountain bluebird is a migratory species. There is only one region where these birds appear to stay year-round - Nevada and the Four Corners area of the Southwest. Outside this range, mountain bluebirds regularly migrate south for winter and back north during the breeding season.
Winter populations of mountain bluebirds primarily occur in the pinyon-juniper woodland, deserts, and open grasslands of the desert Southwest and western Great Plains.
There is significant variation year to year in arrival and departure dates to and from wintering grounds. Timing is determined by weather and food availability. If the winter is mild, mountain bluebird populations will likely be slower to migrate.
In particularly mild years, bluebirds are irregularly reported as overwintering in Montana, Wyoming, Idaho, and occasionally the Yukon Territory.
Mountain Bluebird during the winter, perched on a snow covered fence
During the summer breeding season, mountain bluebirds are present throughout the higher elevation regions of the mountain west and the Great Plains of North America.
They are found as far north as central Alaska and south to northern New Mexico and Arizona. Habitats vary between high alpine and shrub steppes.
Mountain bluebirds do not live in groups during the breeding season. However, come winter migration, these birds often group up into mixed flocks of up to 50 individuals. Winter flocks may include Western bluebirds, juncos, and sparrows.
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