Time for Migration Monday! Today’s featured migrant is the Indigo Bunting.
Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea)
Indigo Buntings are stocky, finch-like birds that are actually part of the Cardinalidae (or Cardinal) Family. During breeding season male Indigo Buntings are a brilliant blue, with darker blue plumage on their heads, and have a silvery-gray bill . The male’s wings have black plumage. Females are a drab brown with a whitish throat. Females have faint streaking on their breast and some may have a slight touch of blue on their rumps, wings, or tail. Immature male buntings are a patchy blue and brown. In the fall males will molt their blue plumage and become more brown like the female.
Long distance migrant. Summer (Breeding): Midwest to Eastern North America and parts of the American Southwest. Winter: Central America and the Caribbean Islands. Migration: parts of New Mexico, Texas, and Mexico
Indigo Bunting tend to like the edges of habitats: edges of woodlands, roadsides, swamps, and old fields near bushes. They breed in brushy and weedy pastures.
Mainly insect, seeds, berries, and buds. Indigo Buntings forage on all levels, from the ground to up in the trees. In the summer they usually forge alone, but form large flocks to forage at their wintering grounds. Upon arrival to their breeding grounds, they may eat on twigs and leaves from various trees.
Males will start to defend their territories in the spring by song. A male may have more than one female breeding in his territory at a time. Females will build a nest in a low tree or shrub using twigs, weeds, bark, and other materials to form an open cup. Indigo Buntings may have between 1 and 3 broods per year (usually 2) with a clutch size of 3-4 eggs. The female will incubate the eggs for 11-14 days and nestlings will fledge between 9-12 days after hatching. Sometimes the male will take over care of the young while the female starts a second brood.
Males sing a lively and cheerful song of short phrases that are each repeated twice. For example, a song may sound like “what! what! where? where? see it! see it!”. They form what is referred to as “song neighborhoods” because young males will learn songs from other males in their area. As a result, neighboring males will have similar songs and males from a few hundred yards away will have very different songs.
- Indigo Buntings migrate at night and use the stars to help them navigate.
- Indigo Buntings, like other blue birds, are not actually blue. Microscopic structures in their feathers refract and reflect blue light.
- They can migrate around 1,200 miles from their breeding grounds to their wintering grounds. They tend to migrate due south, meaning if an Indigo Bunting breeds in the western part of their range they will migrate to the western part of their wintering grounds and vice versa.
- Indigo Buntings and their western cousins, the Lazuli Bunting, may share ranges and even interbreed. Male Lazuli Buntings may also learning songs from the Indigo Buntings.