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Indigo Bunting

Common Name: Indigo Bunting.

Scientific Name: Passerina Cyanea.

What to look for?  Very bright blue bird! A breeding male Indigo Bunting is unmistakable with its startlingly blue coloration. Note: In the fall, they lose this blue hue, and their plumage is mostly brown, but with hints of blue in the wings or tail. Males have dark streaks on their wings and tails. Females are basically brown with a whitish throat and faint streaking on the breast. Indigo Buntings have black or gray legs and feet. They have a shiny, conical, two-toned bill - silver-gray on top and tannish on lower.

Where can they be found at Carillon Stonegate Pond? An Indigo Bunting may be found sitting a top the trees or in the shrubs around Carillon Stonegate Pond.  They may show up at your bird. Feeder. May through end of mid- is best time of year. You may hear them before you see them.

How big are they? Sparrow-sized. Indigo Buntings average approximately five and one-half (5.5) inches in length. And their wingspan is approximately eight (8) inches. They weigh in at around one-half (0.5) ounce.

What are their flight patterns? The Indigo Bunting flies with rapid wing beats while taking short flights. Their migration flying takes place largely at night. Indigo Buntings use the movement of the stars to navigate during migration. They learn to orient by the night sky as a young bird observing the stars.

How else do they behave? Male Indigo Buntings are singers and vocalize often. Another behavior is a slow, fluttering flight while holding their wings at right angles to their bodies ("butterfly" display) used by males when defending their territory. And Indigo Buntings migrate at night under stars – more on this below. Also, an Indigo Bunting has a habit of twitching its tail from side to side.

What’s for dinner? Indigo Buntings are omnivores, eating small seeds, berries, buds, and insects. They forage for seeds, including thistles, dandelions, goldenrods, and grain. They will dine on blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, serviceberries, and elderberries. Spiders and insect prey, which form the majority of their diet during summer months, may include caterpillars, grasshoppers, aphids, cicadas (will need big appetite in 2021!) and beetles.

Where do they take up residence? Indigo Buntings are found throughout summer in eastern North America, including Illinois. Their winter range includes Mexico, Central America, and northern portions of South America. Indigo Buntings reside in weedy and brushy areas, especially where these fields meet woodlands and forests.

When and where do they breed and nest? Indigo Buntings breed in the eastern U.S. and Canada. They build a nest site in dense shrub or low tree, usually less than three (3) feet above ground. Indigo Buntings breed between May and September. Indigo buntings are socially monogamous; however, pairs only associate until incubation begins, and may switch partners within a single breeding season. A female may have as many as two (2) broods annually. Each brood will have three (3) to four (4) eggs. The incubation period is two (2) weeks. Young usually leave nest two (2) weeks after hatching.

Where do they migrate? Indigo Buntings migrate long distances. They fly about 1,200 miles each way between breeding grounds in eastern North America and wintering areas from Central America to northern South America. The birds tend to migrate more or less due south (due north on return). Many Indigo Buntings migrate across Gulf of Mexico in both spring and fall. They migrate at night, using the stars to navigate. As young birds observing the stars, Indigo Buntings learned to orient and navigate by the night sky.

What is their conservation status? There is low concern. Indigo Buntings are generally abundant throughout their range. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, populations declined by about 31% between 1966 and 2014. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 78 million with 98% spending some part of the year in the U.S. They are not on any watch list. Indigo Buntings are fully protected in the United States and Canada under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

Do they make any interesting sounds? Indigo Buntings are nicknamed "blue canaries" – only the males sing. The song is a series of bouncy phrases with different pitches, usually with paired notes - "Sweet-sweet, chur-chur, twip-twip." Here is a link to the sounds of the Indigo Bunting.

Interesting Facts About the Indigo Bunting:

  • Indigo Buntings are nicknamed "blue canaries."

  • Indigo Buntings migrate at night, using the stars for guidance. The birds possess an internal clock that enables them to continually adjust their angle of orientation to a star—even as that star moves through the night sky. A study with caged buntings inside a planetarium, recording the direction of their flight attempts as the star pattern above them was changed, proved that Indigo Buntings use the stars to navigate during migration.

  • Indigo Buntings learn their songs as youngsters, from nearby males but not from their fathers. Buntings a few hundred yards apart generally sing different songs, while those in the same "song neighborhood" share nearly identical songs. 

  • Like all other blue birds, Indigo Buntings lack blue pigment. Their jewel-like color comes instead from microscopic structures in the feathers that refract and reflect blue light, much like the airborne particles that cause the sky to look blue. 

  • The oldest recorded wild Indigo Bunting was approximately 13 years old.

For more information on the Indigo Bunting and sources of information used in this blog (these are the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit All About Birds, Audubon Society, University of Michigan Animal Diversity Web, American Bird Conservancy, and Bird Watchers Digest.  And the Cornell Lab of Ornithology provides a wonderful source of information for anyone interested in learning more about birds.

The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, plants and insects. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.


Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!

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