Mr. Bluebird in Yellowstone

Mountain Bluebird in Yellowstone, April 25, 2009“O bluebird, welcome back again

Thy azure coat and ruddy vest

Are hues that April loveth best...”

John Burroughs, The Bluebird

Numerous birds flock to Yellowstone in spring, but none announce the impending end—or at least near end—of winter with such flourish as the mountain bluebird (Sialia currucoides).   The rich, cerulean blue feathers of the mountain bluebird paint the first colors of spring on a landscape that has been dominated by dull grey and whites—indeed, it’s as if the birds bring pieces of a blue summer sky down to earth.

Yesterday I walked up Old Gardiner Road and witnessed dozens of mountain bluebirds arriving in Yellowstone from a journey that likely started in Mexico or the Southwest. Their breeding ground ranges from Arizona to Alaska; most bluebirds flock to Yellowstone from March to April, but some “early” birds arrive in the park in late February.

A Colorful CombinationMountain bluebirds prefer open, mountainous terrain, and I enjoy watching them hover in place while scouting above the sagebrush for insects. Once an insect has been spotted, they drop suddenly to retrieve their prize. Nature adorned them with splendid color, but stinted a bit on their musical ability—the Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes their call as a “nasal, non-musical tew” and their song as a “series of burry whistles.”

Last night another snowstorm blanketed the Yellowstone landscape in white. When I gazed out my window this morning, I despaired that spring would never arrive. Then I caught sight of a flock of bluebirds flying through the storm and was cheered—even the snowflakes couldn’t banish that hopeful, vibrant blue.