The eastern bluebird was officially designated the Missouri state bird by the Missouri Legislature in 1927 because it was "common in Missouri" and "a symbol of happiness." Referring to its pleasing color, naturalist Henry David Thoreau once wrote that "it carries the sky on its back." Add to that its delightful song, non-aggressive manner and beneficial food habits, and you have a truly appealing bird. And, people can even become involved with this state bird by building birdhouses.
Most important for a state symbol, bluebirds are fitting for Missouri. They seem to favor the rolling Missouri countryside where they may be seen flitting about from fencepost to fencepost on any bright spring morning. For those who witness the flash of blue and hear their "cheer-cheeryup" song in such a setting, the phrase "bluebird of happiness" takes on a special meaning.
The number of bluebirds in Missouri has varied over time in response to many factors. The Breeding Bird Survey indicates high numbers in recent years. People who believe bluebirds are becoming rare may have moved from the country to the city during their lives or witnessed their local habitat become brushy.
The removal of dead trees and branches for firewood or neatness continues to eliminate existing or potential nest cavities. If it were not for the many Missourians who maintain nesting boxes, bluebirds would probably be far worse off.
Bluebirds arrive at nesting sites in February and March. The male selects a nest site and offers the female food. The female accepts the site by bringing nest material. She builds the nest. Second and even third nestings can occur through the summer until as late as August. Nest failure and re-nesting can alter the latter part of this schedule.
- January-February: Wintering flocks begin to break up.
- February: Pairs arrive on the breeding territories, begin territorial singing.
- March: First nests constructed. First eggs laid.
- April-May: First brood fledges.
- May: Second nesting initiated.
- June: Second brood fledges.
- July: Rarely, third nesting initiated.
- August: Third brood fledges.
- September-October: Bluebirds in northern Missouri begin migration.
- September-December: Family groupings gradually join larger wandering flocks from mid-September through December.
Bluebirds do not eat seeds, so rarely visit ordinary bird feeders. To see bluebirds up close, attract them with special foods. Some Missourians make cakes of yellow corn meal glued together with cooled bacon drippings or similar cooking grease with bits of fruit or raisins throughout. Berries collected in summer can be dried or frozen and provided during cold weather.
To promote bluebird survival, plant dogwoods, sumacs, cedars, hawthorns, or similar plants that provide natural winter foods. Fresh water is needed, especially in winter. Several days of sub-freezing cold and snow or ice cover can cause mass mortality among bluebirds. It took nearly a decade for Missouri's population to recover from the hard winters of the late 1970s.
Other blue songbirds
The eastern bluebird has two relatives that live in western North America—the western bluebird (Sialia mexicana) and the mountain bluebird (Sialia currucoides). The latter, an all-blue species, very rarely wanders into Missouri. The most likely solid blue birds to be seen in Missouri are the male indigo bunting — a small, deep-blue bird — and its larger, look-alike cousin, the blue grosbeak.