There seem to be few “blue” songbirds. So I picked three eastern ones: Eastern Bluebird, Indigo Bunting, and Blue Grosbeak. So why not Blue Jays? Well, have you heard any lovely melodies from one yet?
I have always enjoyed watching Eastern Bluebirds, but only recently have I paid much attention to their lovely, lilting songs. By contrast, I have not been able to ignore the near-constant singing of Indigo Buntings in my yard and always everywhere else I go in the countryside. Indigo Buntings are relatively easy to videotape as well, brazenly singing on a conspicuous perch and allowing a close approach. Their iridescence makes for a rich and vibrant blue if the angle of the light is right. Also sporting beautiful iridescent colors, Blue Grosbeaks are much harder to find than either Eastern Bluebirds or Indigo Buntings. In central Missouri, they show up in numbers in late May, but you cannot count on finding a male or pair at the same location for very long.
Eastern Bluebirds are familiar to most people because they favor open areas and are not very shy. Their lovely blue wings, back and head contrast with chestnut-colored breasts, and they are the official state bird of Missouri and New York. Although their songs seem simple and unremarkable to some ears, Don Kroodsma, in his book “The Singing Life of Birds,” made a point of listening and recording some males for several days in the vicinity of Amherst, Massachusetts. He comments: “How could I have overlooked bluebirds all these years? Such variety to their songs, so expressive by how loudly and rapidly they sing that I need to know more….” He found even more complexity during singing exchanges between males in the pre-dawn.
Indigo Buntings favor forest edges and weedy fields. Once you learn to recognize their spirited songs (which are given throughout the day), you will discover how abundant they actually are. In fact, when recording other kinds of birds, singing indigo buntings are often a nuisance because their songs are so loud and repeated so often.
Blue Grosbeaks are like Indigo Buntings on steroids: larger, huskier, and with a proportionally larger bill that inspires their name. They also have attractive, rich brown bars on their wings that are lacking in Indigo Buntings. Their songs are much quieter and sweeter than those of Indigo Buntings, and they are not as likely to sing much past the early morning hours (although they sometimes sing in the late afternoon). In Missouri I have most often found them in pastures or other more open habitats than those occupied by Indigo Buntings.