A practical guide to bird watching in Sonoma County, California

(Unless otherwise indicated, all phone numbers are in the 707 area code)


Western Bluebird is fairly common in Sonoma County year-round in appropriate habitat, but numbers increase during the winter months through breeding season. Favors oak woodlands that border grassy areas, open grasslands or other open areas with low brush. May be seen in or near lightly wooded environments near water. Also likes parks, cemeteries, farmland, orchards and vineyards--anywhere that trees and open grassy areas come together. Often perches on posts, wires, or on low natural perches before swooping down to capture insect prey, usually near the ground. May be solitary, in pairs, or in small flocks, but most often in flocks. Breeds in much of the county, except in the heavily forested northwest, which lacks the open areas this bird prefers.

The upper parts and throat of the male Western Bluebird are a pale but bright ultramarine blue. The upper breast, sides, and flanks are rust colored. The lower parts are otherwise a pale grey, although there is often a hint of blue just below the rust on the breast. The rust color extends somewhat onto the upper back in the male. Female birds are much less blue--mostly a pale, brown-tinged grey, but with a wash of rust on the breast and flanks and a paler grey throat (photo below). Folded wings are bluish, but female birds may look mostly grey, especially in the winter. Females may show a pale eyering. Juvenile birds are a brownish-grey with white spots (especially on the breast) with blue in the wings and at the rump (photo below).

If the throat is rust colored and the rust extends around the side of the neck (unlikely), you have found an Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis)--which would be a first for the county. You're somewhat more likely to find the all-blue Mountain Bluebird (Sialia currucoides), which, although very rare in Sonoma County, has been reported here from time to time (Bolander and Parmeter list nine county records through 2000). In October 2010, a Mountain Bluebird turned up at Point Reyes, in neighboring Marin County. In nearly all cases, however, a bluebird in Sonoma County will be a Western Bluebird.

May be confused with Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena), but that bird has a heavy, finch-like bill and white wing bars, lacking in the bluebird. Lazuli Bunting favors higher elevations and more heavily wooded areas than Western Bluebird and tends to stay high in trees. The blue of a Lazuli Bunting is closer to turquoise (tending toward green), whereas the blue of the Western Bluebird tends slightly toward purple.    

Further reading:

Bolander and Parmeter, Birds of Sonoma County California, rev. ed., 2000, p. 96

Brinkley, National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2007, p. 392

Burridge, ed., Sonoma County Breeding Bird Atlas, 1995, p. 132

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 5th ed., 2006, p. 354

Dunn and Alderfer, eds., National Geographic Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 6th ed., 2011, p. 396

Dunne, Pete Dunne’s Essential Field Guide Companion, 2006, pp. 494-495

Ehrlich, Dobkin, and Wheye, The Birder's Handbook, paperback edition, 1988, p. 454

Fix and Bezener, Birds of Northern California, 2000, p. 296

Floyd, Smithsonian Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 2008, p. 355

Kaufman, Field Guide to Birds of North America, 2000, p. 208

Lukas, Bay Area Birds: From Sonoma County to Monterey Bay, 2012, pp. 225-226

Parmeter and Wight, Birds of Sonoma County California, Update (2000-2010), 2012, p. 58

Peterson, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America, 4th ed., 2010, p. 288

Peterson, Western Birds, 3rd ed., 1990,  p. 278

Sibley, Field Guide to Birds of Western North America,1st ed., 2003, p. 343

Stokes, Stokes Field Guide to the Birds of North America, 1st ed., 2010, p. 553

Vuilleumier, American Museum of Natural History, Birds of North America: Western Region, 2011, p. 323

Voice: Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds--Western Bluebird



© Colin Talcroft, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

Unless noted, all photos by the author. If you would like to use one of my images, please ask for permission for non-commercial use with proper credit or commercial use with proper compensation.


Western Bluebird, Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery, Santa Rosa, March 14, 2011

Juvenile Western Bluebird, Bodega Bay, August 29, 2011

Female Western Bluebird, Sonoma Valley Regional Park, February 8, 2012

Western Bluebird

Sialia mexicana

1990-2013 Sonoma County data. Graph provided by eBird (www.ebird.org), generated September 18, 2013

EBird reported occurrence in Sonoma County

Western Bluebird, Santa Rosa, December 15, 2015