Heated Birdbaths

Male Bluebird Playing Dead?

by Linda
(Fleetwood, PA)

I've been watching my first pair of bluebirds for 8 days now. The female has laid an egg a day starting on day 5 of nesting, and now we're up to 4 eggs!


The nest box they are in has been used before by swallows. In fact, two pairs of tree swallows built nests in the box this spring, but something unusual happened.

The first pair abandoned the nest after laying only 2 or 3 eggs. The second pair (which could have been the first pair trying again) didn't show up for a day after having already laid 5 eggs.

We checked the box to make sure they were okay, and the eggs were gone. We guessed a snake must have gotten the eggs, but we don't really know.

We are bird enthusiasts and enjoy the habits of all sorts of birds, so we're excited to see bluebirds - something new for us - in our yard.

The male has exhibited some unusual behavior which we can't find on any website. We have observed him "play dead" twice.

The first time he flew down to the ground and lay down, extending his wings on both sides and resting his head on the ground. If I hadn't seen it myself, I would have assumed he was dead. He staying there for at least 30 seconds. The other time he did it, he didn't extend his wings - just kind of slumped over on his side.

It was really strange and interesting. Was this a defense mechanism because he sees a threat? Is this some sort of breeding behavior? We're hoping that someone has seen this and can offer some insight.

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Aug 14, 2016
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bluebird behavior
by: Gene

This is either sunning or anting. A common practice of many birds.

Aug 13, 2016
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Blue bird checkup
by: Anonymous

We just witnessed this behavior this morning. Blue bird layer down in dirt with spread wings and head down for about 30 seconds. My 6 year old daughter is convinced the bird is getting a checkup from the fairies.

Jun 29, 2015
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Sunning
by: John in central florida

Yesterday I was observing mom in box and dad perched on a bamboo pole close to the box. All of a sudden he flew down to the ground and appeared to keel over on his side. However, looking through the binoculars, I could see him looking around while on his side.

It was a hot sunny morning and I think he was just taking a sun bath. About three or four minutes later my neighbor walked over to his side of the fence to check his grape vine and he quickly flew away.

May 23, 2015
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Bluebirds playing dead
by: Name

I've just seen it happen three times in the last twenty minutes and was googling it to find out myself!

May 14, 2015
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"Injured" female cardinal
by: Janine

I found a female cardinal sitting on her tail in the flower bed this morning. She wasn't near any windows so I knew she didn't fly into anything. I couldn't imagine what had injured her. About the time I was considering getting a shovel to end her suffering, she hopped up. I wonder if she was anting?

So glad others have seen similar!

Apr 13, 2015
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situation
by: rachel

Ha ha I have always been with this situation. This is not only in the case of the blue bird but also every creature that are intelligent will do this. My parrot is so specially trained for this acting. She is so naughty at some situation.

Jun 11, 2013
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Bluebird playing dead
by: LN

Just yesterday I witnessed my 5 baby bluebirds get eaten by a black snake. At first there was a lot of bird racket, two Blue Jays and the two Blue birds were going nuts and I noticed a snake part way out from under my porch to which he retreated.

Later the bl birds were upset again and the snake was in the house,very upsetting, point is a short time later the bluebird dove to the ground put one wing out and stayed there for a while so I was about to help it when it flew off.

I'm wondering if he wasn't playing decoy so they could lure the snake out to check on the babies????? Very upsetting day though.

Nov 18, 2012
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dead bluebirds
by: elmer

hi all, I have also seen bluebird play dead a couple times. As for finding dead birds, I have seen some also. A couple reasons at our house is flying into large windows or glass doors. Also crossing roads. Bluebirds tend to fly low when crossing roads.We tape colored small ribbon to large windows so a breeze can move them. good luck from northeast pa.

Jun 23, 2012
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actual dead bluebirds
by: Anonymous

Just witnessed what everyone else has been talking about, however, just yesterday, I found two bluebirds actually dead in our backyard. Then I saw this latest one laying on the ground with it's wings spread and thought, "oh no...another one!" This one flew off when I went to investigate. Anyone have any ideas why I might have had two dead bluebirds in the yard? What could be happening?

Apr 24, 2012
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Male playing dead
by: Carolyn

I just witnessed this behavior and thought it was extremely odd. A male landed on the ground in front of a birdhouse we just placed in the yard a few weeks ago. Other birds were around (jays, thrashers) as well as a female bluebird.

The male splayed out on the ground for a good 20 seconds while the female was about 30yds away sitting on the fence facing his direction.

After the 20 seconds, he got up and puffed himself up picking at his feathers. At first I thought it might be a strange mating tactic, but the two answers I've found are that he might be sunning, or something called "anting" where they spread their wings and lie down where ants are present.

The ants apparently rummage through their feathers and remove parasites.

From: Wild-Bird-Watching.com


The ants bite and secrete an acid like substance that bothers parasites and mites. It is thought anyway. But the ants themselves do nothing. The behavior is very common in many birds.


Sep 05, 2010
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bluebird playing dead?
by: Anonymous

I saw two bluebirds today in my backyard also play dead. First there was only one and I also thought he was dead until I saw his head move a little. I called my husband over to see and about that time a second bluebird came and did the exact same thing next to the first one. They then flew off when my husband started taking pictures.

Aug 15, 2010
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Bluebird playing dead
by: Anonymous

I observed a male bluebird in my backyard play dead yesterday, also. I thought at first he might be dead or wounded. He flew down from a utility wire and immediately spread his wing and laid flat against the ground.

As I watched I saw a larger bird approaching on the ground. When the larger bird got within about 8 feet of the bluebird it (the bluebird) flew back up to it's perch on the wire. The other bird seems unconcerned with the bluebird and flew off.

Jul 04, 2010
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Birds playing dead
by: Anonymous

I saw 2 baby cardinals (I think they were chicks) both playing dead at the same time! They fluffed up their feathers rolled over on their side and stayed that way for about 30 secs to a minute then flew away!!! I had never seen that before

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