From soaring golden eagles to swooping king fishers, Idaho is home to birds of all shapes, sizes, and colors. While Idaho’s variety of landscapes and ecosystems make it a great place for our feathered friends to call home, only one bird snags the title of Idaho’s state bird – the mountain bluebird.
Mountain bluebirds are members of the thrush family, and are usually about 6 to 7 inches long. Females are gray with blue on their wings and tails. Males are that brilliant sky blue color, famous for helping coin the term “bluebird day” for the gorgeous, clear blue mountain skies Idahoans get to enjoy.
Aside from their striking color, the cheery call and flight pattern of the mountain bluebird also make it easy to identify. Its long wings, hovering flight, and quick dives make for a zig zagging motion.
Mountain bluebirds generally live at elevations of 4,000 feet or higher, so you’re likely to see one in Idaho’s mountains, living in open grasslands and nesting in trees, crevices, and nesting boxes. These birds arrive in Idaho from wintering grounds in late February and early March, and migrate south in September and early October.
As more land is cleared for new development, nesting sites available for mountain bluebird are lost, reducing the population of the species. The good news – Idahoans love their mountain bluebirds, with many making efforts to ensure mountain bluebirds have a place to call home in the Gem State. Perhaps you’ve heard of Idaho’s “Bluebird Man,” a self-taught conservationist named Al Larson, who committed decades of his life to recovering North America’s bluebirds. Or maybe you’ve seen bluebird nesting boxes along some of Idaho’s birding trails. Any Idahoan can become a citizen scientist and help out the mountain bluebird by learning to build a bluebird nesting box.
While the mountain bluebird has always been a fan favorite, it wasn’t the only bird considered when picking Idaho’s state bird. In 1928, a questionnaire was sent to all the women’s clubs in Idaho to find out which bird was the most beloved. The bluebird, dove, sage hen, and western tanager were all discussed.
The bluebird’s biggest rival in this race proved to be the western tanager. According to a newspaper article from the Caribou County Sun in 1934, a woman named Everett Barton led the push for the tanager, but not many Idahoans at the time recognized the bird. School children across the state voted in favor of the mountain bluebird, and eventually the Idaho Federation of Women’s Clubs also voiced their support for the bluebird.
On February 28, 1931, the mountain bluebird became the official state bird of Idaho.
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