Male Bluebird Playing Dead?

by Linda

Do Bluebirds Play Dead?

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 swallow 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 stayed 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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Mating, Nesting, Feeding Habits of Bluebirds

Comments for Male Bluebird Playing Dead?

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Feigning Death or Injury
by: Jason

Many birds can feign death or injury around their nesting sites or when traveling with their young.

If a predator, such as a hawk, sees a hurt-looking bird then it is far more likely to pursue it and ignore a nest or juvenile.

Playing dead would be more useful if it were threatened by a cat which may then just become disinterested.

Sprawling on the ground can just be sunning, dust bathing, anting, or feigning.

Feigning injury near feeders or nests is a decoy tactic to protect other birds.

I've seen adult grackles take turns feigning injury while the other fed their young near a feed tray.

Killing bugs
by: OD

I read they are killing mites. They can tolerate a higher temperature than the bug.

Sunning Bird
by: joe

I saw this the other day all sprawled out when I walked up to him he just flew away

Yes! I couldn’t believe my eyes!
by: Nanette

My neighbors and I have been watching a pair of blue jays building a nest in our backyard apple tree for the past few weeks.

I've been taking many photos of them, as the tree is right outside my window.

As I was watching, I saw one jay laying beak up on our table, and watched the other one land and keel over!

I was so shocked I actually called a neighbor in tears and said I think our Blue Jays are dead.

I went to get my camera and when I came back the first one was gone, and I watched the second one get up, shake himself or herself, and flyway.

It was the most flabbergasting thing I had ever seen in years of amateur bird-watching.

I was able to get a photo of one of them.

I want to add the photo, I will when I figure out how!

Thank you for helping solve the riddle!

bluejay sunning

Bluejay Sunning

by: Karen

Just saw female bluebird act dead for first time.

Do Cardinals play dead too?
by: Anonymous

Just saw this w/ 2 Cardinals and it's dusk!

I was walking my dog and we spotted what we thought was a dead bird.

My little 9-lb Maltipoo put it in his mouth.

I told him to "drop it" and the bird flew away.

Then 3 feet away one gripped a tree trunk at eye level.

I'm 5’4. I took 2 photos with a flash and it didn't move.

It didn't move when my jumping dog almost reached it. It was alive. Is there a way to post a photo?

male Blue jay splays it's wings
by: Jon

Hi Folks, I had never seen this before - the (male) Blue jay flew in and splayed its wings - I was wondering what that was all about.

I Googled it and came up with this discussion site - I made a short Youtube where you can see this phenomenon,


I have noticed that these Blue jays don't stay still too long!

Also, they've been squawking quite a lot lately - thanks for checking it out, and any further observations - Jon

stellar's jay sunning

Stellar's Jay Anting

Bluebird playing possum
by: Anonymous

Just saw this behavior and arrived at this site as I wanted to see if I could find any info.

It was exactly as described.

A male bluebird was on the lawn with wings outstretched, his head was down for 1-2 minutes.

I swore he was dead but couldn't imagine how.

His head rose and he remained for another minute or two and then flew away. Weird!

Eastern Ontario
by: Sue

Yes, I just witnessed the same behavior.

This Blue Jay was laying on my balcony railing, wings splayed and head to the side.

I thought it was sick or dying, but when I got up to help it, it flew off.

I’ve seen this twice this year!
by: Laura

I think they’re sunning themselves.

I thought they had been attacked and were dead, but they flew off! Both times, they were on my sunny deck railing.

Blue Jays
by: Anonymous

My wife and I just witnessed two blue jays lying on their sides outside our kitchen window, about 18 feet straight ahead.

We thought a fox or something had gone to them.

We went out to check them, my wife even telling me to grab a shovel to place them in the woods, but as soon as we went outside, they turned upright and flew off!

That's how I found this comment section, as I too was looking into this and can't quite find much.

I wish I had taken a picture— so interesting!

Fake out
by: Sue

I just saw this blue jay activity of playing dead this morning.

The blue jay just laid there as I watched from my kitchen window feeling angry at who did this to him.

All of a sudden a bunny started hopping over to the motionless bird, and the bird perked up quickly and flew away.

Male Blue bird paying dead, as well!
by: Barbara

I had the same experience as well, but thought of it, that he was "Totally" resting and sunning himself!

The beautiful blue feathers, spread out like a show, for all to see.

Ours lay there for quite a while, in fact, it took me a few minutes to figure out, what I was looking at!

Yes they play dead
by: Anonymous

I have had a pair of blue Jays for a year now. The male always warns of snakes.

This morning I heard him, As I walked out to see what was wrong, he was laying on the ground by the bamboo trees.

I took a closer look, the female dived the ground, and a huge black snake was lurking. I chased the thing away.

The male risking his life for his family. Amazing!

bluebird behavior
by: Gene

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

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.

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 grapevine and he quickly flew away.

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!

"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!

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 Bluebirds were going nuts.

I noticed a snake part way out from under my porch to which he retreated.

Later the bluebirds were upset again and the snake was in the house, very upsetting.

The point is, a short time later, the bluebird dove to the ground put one wing out, and stayed there for a while.

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.

playing dead bluebirds
by: elmer

Hi all, I have also seen bluebird play dead a couple of times.

As for finding dead birds, I have seen some also.

A couple of 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 ribbons to large windows so a breeze can move them. Good luck from northeast pa.

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 30 yards away sitting on the fence facing his direction.

After 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.


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.

bluebird playing dead?
by: Anonymous

I saw two bluebirds today in my backyard also playing 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.

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 its perch on the wire.

The other bird seems unconcerned with the bluebird and flew off.

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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