Bluebirds of Happiness


Sawiskera, the Spirit of Winter and Darkness, plagued the Iroquois people, daily banishing the sun and conjuring yearly icy eras of tribulation.

One magical melody, however, could ward off the forces of Sawiskera. This musical potion emerged from the syrinx of the Eastern bluebird

Bluebirds are passerines, the order of perching birds and songbirds, and fit into the thrush family. Three species populate the genus Sialia, all of which inhabit North America: the Mountain bluebird; the Western bluebird; and the aforementioned Eastern bluebird.

And these blues are beauties!

Mountain bluebird - photo by Elaine R. Wilson
Western bluebird - photo by Peter E. Hart
Eastern bluebird - photo by Francesco Veronesi

Bluebirds prefer to frequent and dine in open grassland, though the insectivores will visit your garden or birdfeeders, provided you furnish mealworms for them to munch. They assemble nests in cavities, including nesting boxes.

The males pinpoint potential nesting locations and then begin a mating ritual in an attempt to lure a mate. They procure a bit of suitable construction material, bring it to the cavity, then begin a song and dance. If a female bluebird accepts the proposal, the male does not stick around (or she boots him?). Once it’s egg time, the female alone finishes the nest and incubates the coming babies, though dad does return when the clutch requires food.

Unlike many avian species, bluebirds often produce more than one brood per year. The first set of hatchlings usually leaves their mother in midsummer. Subsequent chicks might remain with their parents throughout the winter.

The Eastern bluebird ranges from southern Canada, east of the Rockies, all the way to Nicaragua. The Western and Mountain bluebird ranges overlap quite a bit, but offer a few variances, as well. The Western bluebird loves the low, coniferous forests of the western United States, while the Mountain version can be found all the way into Alaska at much higher elevations.

The range of the Eastern bluebird - graphic by Birds of the World

Though the azure appearance of these birds is lovely, we learned that bluebirds (and all other “blue” birds) are not really blue at all! Many colors are common in the natural world, but blue is not one of them. If you see a red bird or a yellow bird, chances are the hues actually come from those colors contained in the feathers. Blue, on the other hand, is a bit of an optical illusion. They appear blue because of the way light scatters from the feathers, not from a blue dye or compound. However the color gets to our eyes, the result is certainly stunning!

Modern humans are not the only ones to notice these birds, either.

As we noted in the intro, the Iroquois have viewed bluebirds as heralds of goodness for thousands of years. Though bluebirds are native to North America, birds that are blue have garnered that reputation across the world. Often dubbed the Bluebird of Happiness, many cultures revere these gorgeous fliers.

In China, blue birds (sometimes green, though, as we learned in our previous examination of blue, these concepts might not be as different as we perceive them now) were the messenger of Xi Wangmu, Queen Mother of the West. Many Native American people associate the bluebird with the rising sun. Russian fairy tales promote them as beacons of hope. In a French fairy tale, King Charming becomes a blue bird who helps the princess. Scores of other European tales attach the idea of happiness to birds of blue persuasion. In 1934, a popular American song took the concept’s name quite literally: “Bluebird of Happiness.”

Though Sialia currucoides, Sialia mexicana, and Sialia sialis only appear natively in North America, the blue birds of the world even make it to the British Isles. Their happiness is abundant, but, as the video below elucidates, be careful with how happy you let a little bluebird be! Stealing from the rich and giving to the poor?

Enjoy these glorious images of one of nature’s most resplendent creatures:

Mama bird, baby bird - photo by lecates
Mountain bluebird - photo by Jesse Achtenberg
Eastern bluebird with chicks - photo from Ohio Bluebird Society

Further Reading and Exploration

Eastern Bluebird – All About Birds/The Cornell Lab

Eastern Bluebird – Audubon Society

North American Bluebird Society – Official Website

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