PhotoPost: How the Bluebird made its comeback — and won our hearts

PhotoPost is a new feature on Flying Lessons built around photos and videos. Today’s subject is the bluebird, a conservation success story that can be found in every state in the U.S. The bluebird seems sent from central casting, with deep luminescent blue color, musical song and daily routines that make it easy to watch. All of this makes the bluebird an avian startlet. 

The most striking trait is its royal blue color, which is actually an illusion created by the refraction of light in its plumage. It’s depth of color varies with the sun, as this Eastern Bluebird shows in the soft afternoon light.

Bluebirds were in sharp decline in the mid-1900s, squeezed out of their habitat by starlings and finches. That led to a rescue campaign that planted bluebird boxes across the U.S. and brought back the three species, the Eastern, Western and Mountain Bluebird. Today, they are often on display where people tend to live, perched on fences, wires and branches, and simple to identify as a flash of blue. They’re active, expressive and don’t seem to mind an audience, as these photos show:

Here’s a 45-second video of an Eastern Bluebird in hunting mode. Watch how he studies everything around him:

You’ll often see male and female bluebirds together, flying in formation or perched side by side. Bluebird are monogamous and many mate for life. Here are scenes of bluebird pairs, the male with the bright blue coats and female with muted plumage. 


The recovery of the bluebird created a connection with people few other birds share. The birds are supported by the North American Bluebird Society, formed 50 years ago to restore the species. Bluebirds have emerged as among the favorite birds. Whenever we post bluebirds on our Facebook page, we’ll get hundreds, sometimes thousands of responses, more than with any other species. The Bluebird always makes lists of most popular birds

A male Eastern Bluebird snags a worm — its favorite food — outside its wooden bluebird house.
And here’s a full gallery of photos, followed by links to more information, including range maps for the three species: 


For more information, here’s a link to the North American Bluebird Society that leads conservation efforts, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s page on the Eastern Bluebird and the Western Bluebird, and the Audubon Society’s reproduction of John Audubon’s magnificent notes on the bluebird. 

Finally, here are the Cornell Lab’s animated range maps, one for each of the bluebird species, that show how the birds travel throughout the year. This first map is for the Eastern Bluebird, the most prevalent species:


This is for the Mountain Bluebird:


And this is for the Western Bluebird, whose range overlaps in places with the Mountain Bluebird: 




OUR NEW BOOK: “A Wing and a Prayer”

Can We Save Our Vanishing Birds?

A riveting journey through the research breakthroughs, risky experiments and promising campaigns to save birds across the hemisphere, the book is praised from The New York Times’ book review to Good Morning America.


2 responses to “PhotoPost: How the Bluebird made its comeback — and won our hearts”

  1. Susan M Baker Avatar

    The photos are amazing! I loved hearing about this guy’s work day.

    1. Anders Gyllenhaal Avatar
      Anders Gyllenhaal

      Thanks so much for your kind note. Quite a bird, for sure.

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