Three species of blue-headed North American thrushes (Turdidae) occupy the genus Sialia. The most widespread and best-known is the eastern bluebird (Sialia sialis), breeding from Canada's prairie provinces to Texas and from the Maritimes to Florida; discrete populations of this species are also found from southeastern Arizona through west Mexico into Guatemala and Nicaragua. The mountain bluebird (S. currucoides) breeds on high-elevation plains from central Alaska to Arizona and New Mexico, and the western bluebird (S. mexicana) inhabits dry coniferous forests from extreme southwestern Canada to Baja California and from the Great Basin south into west Mexico.
The symbol of a bluebird as the harbinger of happiness is found in many cultures and may date back thousands of years. One of the oldest examples (found on oracle bone inscriptions of the Shang Dynasty, 1766-1122 BC) is from pre-modern China, where a blue bird (qingniao) was the messenger bird of Xi Wangmu, the 'Queen Mother of the West' who began life as a fearsome goddess and Immortal. By the Tang Dynasty (618-906 AD) she had evolved into a Daoist fairy queen and the protector/patron of "singing girls, dead women, novices, nuns, adepts and priestesses...women [who] stood outside the roles prescribed for women in the traditional Chinese family". Depictions of Xi Wangmu often include a bird—the birds in the earliest depictions are difficult to identify, and by the Tang Dynasty, most of the birds appear in a circle, often with three legs, as a symbol of the sun.
Among some Native Americans, the bluebird has mythological or literary significance.
According to the Cochiti tribe, the firstborn son of Sun was named Bluebird. In the tale "The Sun's Children," from Tales of the Cochiti Indians (1932) by Ruth Benedict, the male child of the sun is named Bluebird (Culutiwa).
The Navajo identify the mountain bluebird as a spirit in animal form, associated with the rising sun. The Bluebird Song is sung to remind tribe members to wake at dawn and rise to greet the sun:
The Bluebird Song is still performed in social settings, including the nine-day Ye'iibicheii winter Nightway ceremony, where it is the final song, performed just before sunrise of the ceremony's last day.
Most O'odham lore associated with the "bluebird" likely refers not to the bluebirds (Sialia) but to the blue grosbeak.
A popular American song of 1934, "Bluebird of Happiness" by Sandor Harmati and Edward Heyman, was recorded twice by Jan Peerce and also by Art Mooney and His Orchestra. That song is probably the origin of the American phrase "the bluebird of happiness," which is also mentioned in the film K-Pax and alluded to in the song "Over The Rainbow" from the "Wizard of Oz."
In 1942, the popular song (There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White Cliffs of Dover used them among other imagery to lift spirits. In reality, though several species of birds nest of the cliffs, the bluebird is not one of them as it is not native to Britain.
The Academy Award-winning song, "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah," from Disney's 1946 live-action and animated film "Song of the South" makes reference to "Mr. Bluebird on my shoulder" as a symbol of good cheer.
In the 1946 Japanese film No Regrets for Our Youth, directed by Akira Kurosawa, when Yukie and Noge reunite in Tokyo during the war, Yukie laments that she is not happy with her career and wants to do something truly meaningful in the struggle for freedom. Noge responds, "Who finds work like that even once in their lives? It's like finding The Blue Bird of Happiness."
In the film Sesame Street Presents: Follow that Bird, the Sleaze Brothers kidnap Big Bird and press him into service in their fun fair, where he is painted blue and billed as the Blue Bird of Happiness. In a witty play on the polysemy of the word "blue," Big Bird sings the mournful song "No Wonder I'm So Blue."
A scene in the Disney film "The Rescuers" uses the bluebird as a symbol of "faith ... you see from afar."
The bluebird is featured in the song "Be Like The Bluebird" in the popular musical "Anything Goes", and was most notably performed by the wonderful Mark Blum
The Allman Brothers' song "Blue Sky" has the lyric "Don't fly, mister blue bird, I'm just walking down the road".
Also mentioned in the "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya" episode "The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya part III"
The lyrics of the They Might Be Giants song Birdhouse in Your Soul, by John Linnell, include the phrase "blue bird of friendliness."
The bluebird is mentioned at the end of the 1968 Beatles movie Yellow Submarine, when the leader of the Blue Meanies claims that his "cousin is the bluebird of happiness".
The bluebird is also mentioned by David Bowie in the song "Lazarus" from his latest - and final - album "Blackstar"
The genuine bluebirds (Sialia) are found only in North America. The western Palearctic has only a few birds with conspicuous blue in the plumage, including the blue rock-thrush (Monticola solitarius), the adult male of which is the only European passerine with all-blue plumage; this species is best known from its literary treatment by Giacomo Leopardi, whose poem Il passero solitario makes of the rock-thrush a figure of the poet's isolation. The great tit (Parus major) and the various blue tits of the genus (Cyanistes) also have noticeable blue in their plumage.
In L'Oiseau Bleu (The Blue Bird) by Madame d'Aulnoy (1650–1705), King Charming is transformed into a blue bird, who aids his lover, the princess Fiordelisa, in her trials.
The Blue Bird provided the narrative material for a 1908 stage play by Maurice Maeterlinck, which in turn has been the source of several films, including the 1940 original starring Shirley Temple, Gale Sondergaard, Spring Byington and Nigel Bruce. Two children, Tyltyl and Mytyl, are sent out by the fairy Bérylune (Jessie Ralph) to search for the Bluebird of Happiness. Returning home empty-handed, the children see that the bird has been in a cage in their house all along. When Myltyl makes of the bird a present to a sick neighbor (Angela), the bird flies away.
In Russian fairy tales, the blue bird is a symbol of hope. More recently, Anton Denikin has characterized the Ice March of the defeated Volunteer Army in the Russian Civil War as follows:
We went from the dark night and spiritual slavery to unknown wandering – in search of the bluebird.