Mountain Bluebird Plumage Development Stages

Wayne County Mountain Bluebird maleWayne County Mountain Bluebird male

While on my recent trip to southern Utah’s Wayne County I was able to photograph a few Mountain Bluebirds including a female up close but in poor light and this male perched on a branch on the ground. In the bright light this male seemed to glow compared to the earthy tones of the high desert habitat.

Centennial Valley juvenile Mountain BluebirdCentennial Valley juvenile Mountain Bluebird

This is a juvenile Mountain Bluebird I photographed in July of 2013 in the Centennial Valley of Montana. This juvenile probably fledged a few weeks before I photographed perched on a wire fence early in the morning.

Perched juvenile Mountain BluebirdPerched juvenile Mountain Bluebird

This immature bluebird is in its juvenal plumage stage. At this age the males and females look similar but the wings of the females would appear duller or slightly greenish so it is my guess that this juvenile is a young male.

Juvenile male Mountain Bluebird molting into basic plumageJuvenile male Mountain Bluebird molting into basic plumage

Two months later, in September, in the same area of the Centennial Valley I was able to photograph a juvenile male Mountain Bluebird molting into basic plumage, or Basic 1 plumage. I kind of like this calico look!

Molting juvenile male Mountain BluebirdMolting juvenile male Mountain Bluebird

The juvenile bluebird still shows some of the juvenal plumage and by winter it should have completed the molting process. Before then though it would have migrated south for the winter.

Female Mountain Bluebird with nesting materialFemale Mountain Bluebird with nesting material

Female Mountain Bluebirds are much duller more gray with hints of blue on the back, tail and wings. This female was photographed in May of last year in the Targhee National Forest of Idaho at a natural nesting cavity. There was a Northern Flicker also attempting to nest in this cavity.

Male Mountain Bluebird at Nesting CavityMale Mountain Bluebird at Nesting Cavity

This male is the mate of the female show in the image above at the same nesting cavity and shows the sky blue colors I am so familiar with seeing in male Mountain Bluebirds. Both the male and female are in what is called Definitive Basic plumage, or adult plumage. Unfortunately this tree was chopped down so the bluebirds, wrens, flickers, swallows, nuthatches and sapsuckers who could have nested there had to find new nesting locations.

These images from different times of the year show Mountain Bluebird plumage development stages from not long after fledging to adulthood. Each and every time I am in the field photographing birds I seem to learn something new or fascinating.

Life is good.


P.S., I don’t have my D810 back yet, it is powering up now but there are some calibrations that need to be done before I can pick it up. I had really hope to have it back yesterday. 


  1. Elephant's Child March 24, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    Absolutely intriguing. Thank you.

  2. Roger Burnard March 24, 2016 at 11:37 am


  3. April Olson March 24, 2016 at 11:01 am

    Beautiful photos. I love the splotchy molts of juveniles.I have watched many birds molt and as I watch I wonder how feathers decide to molt in what order.

  4. Mary McAvoy March 24, 2016 at 10:57 am

    What a wonderful lesson! Thanks, Mia!

  5. John Sherrill March 24, 2016 at 9:45 am

    Great series. Around here, we have a lot more Western Bluebirds, so it’s nice to see the differences. Thanks, John

  6. Grace Dunklee Cohen March 24, 2016 at 7:36 am

    Wow – what great photos – and a tremendous reference, Mia! Thank you for sharing these photos – they will be a great help in correctly identifying and attributing these bluebirds. I have already saved this link for my field identification.

  7. Patty Chadwick March 24, 2016 at 7:06 am

    In every stage, they’re so incredibly beautiful!!! It’s almost as of as they flew, bits of the sky stuck to them. I remember the first time I saw one….didn’t know at the time they existed…saw several atva time–in a bush. I couldn’t believe my eyes! A beautiful blue-sky day and small bits of that sky fluttering around right in front of me! This os a wonderful post.

  8. Bob McPherson March 24, 2016 at 6:49 am

    Gorgeous images, Mia. Love the commentary also.

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