Indigo BuntingPasserina cyanea

adult male
Rob Curtis/VIREO
adult female
Brian E. Small/VIREO
juvenile male
Glenn Bartley/VIREO

Family

Description

In parts of the East, Indigo Bunting may be the most abundant songbird, with the deep-blue males singing along every roadside. The plain brown females are seen far less often, and they have good reason to be inconspicuous: they do almost all the work of caring for the eggs and young, hidden away in dense thickets. This species favors brushy edges rather than unbroken forest, and is probably far more common today than when the Pilgrims landed.

Habitat

Brushy pastures, bushy wood edges. For nesting favors roadsides, old fields growing up to bushes, edges of woodlands, and other edge habitats such as along rights-of-way for powerlines or railroads. Also in clearings within deciduous woods, edges of swamps. In the west, usually near streams. During winter in the tropics, most common around brushy edges of farm fields.

Feeding Diet

Mostly seeds and insects. In breeding season feeds mostly on insects and spiders, also some seeds, berries. Young in the nest are fed mostly insects at first. In winter, eats many seeds, also some insects.

Feeding Behavior

Forages at all levels from ground up into shrubs and trees. Takes insects from leaves, seeds from ground or stems, berries from shrubs. Forages alone in summer, in flocks in winter.

Nesting

Male establishes territory in spring, defends it with song. Male may have more than one mate at a time living on his territory. Nest site is usually 1-3' above ground, rarely up to 30' or more, in dense shrub or low tree. Late in season, may nest in large weed such as goldenrod. Nest (built by female) an open cup of grass, leaves, weeds, bark strips, lined with finer materials. Eggs: 3-4, rarely 1-2. White to bluish-white, rarely with brown or purple spots. Incubation is by female only, 12-13 days, sometimes 11-14 days. Young: Fed only by female in most cases. At some nests, male helps feed young when they are nearly old enough to fly. Young usually leave nest 9-12 days after hatching. Male sometimes takes over feeding of fledged young while female begins second nesting attempt. 2 broods per year.

Eggs

3-4, rarely 1-2. White to bluish-white, rarely with brown or purple spots. Incubation is by female only, 12-13 days, sometimes 11-14 days. Young: Fed only by female in most cases. At some nests, male helps feed young when they are nearly old enough to fly. Young usually leave nest 9-12 days after hatching. Male sometimes takes over feeding of fledged young while female begins second nesting attempt. 2 broods per year.

Young

Fed only by female in most cases. At some nests, male helps feed young when they are nearly old enough to fly. Young usually leave nest 9-12 days after hatching. Male sometimes takes over feeding of fledged young while female begins second nesting attempt. 2 broods per year.

Conservation

Does well in brushy rural areas, but not in urbanized areas or regions of intense agriculture. Since about 1940s, has extended breeding range to include much of southwest.

Range

Many migrate across Gulf of Mexico in both spring and fall. Migrates at night, and can navigate by the stars. Important studies of bird navigation and migration have involved this species.

Listen

song #2
song & male chip
zeep calls
song #1
alarm chips of pair

Similar Species

adult male, breeding

White-collared Seedeater

This tiny finch is abundant in Mexico and Central America, but it has had a checkered history in our area. In extreme southern Texas, the seedeater was common as recently as the 1940s, but by the mid-1970s it had all but vanished north of the border. In recent years it has reappeared in small numbers in the Falcon Dam area. Flocks of White-collared Seedeaters feed low in rank weedy places, calling to each other in soft voices. They may roost in tall marsh growth along the Rio Grande. The surprisingly clear whistled song of the male is not often heard in our area.

adult male

Blue Bunting

In dense thickets and woodland edges of Mexico and northern Central America, this dark bunting is fairly common. In our area it is a rare and irregular visitor to far southern Texas, mostly occurring in winter. It has very rarely strayed farther up the Texas coast, once reaching Louisiana.

adult male

Blue Grosbeak

The husky warbling song of the Blue Grosbeak is a common sound in summer around thickets and hedgerows in the southern states. Often the bird hides in those thickets; sometimes it perches up in the open, looking like an overgrown Indigo Bunting, flicking and spreading its tail in a nervous action. During migration, and in winter in the tropics, Blue Grosbeaks may gather in flocks to feed in open weedy fields.

adult male, breeding

Lazuli Bunting

Around thickets and streamside trees of the West, this sky-blue bunting is common in summer. Males are conspicuous in summer, singing in the open, but the plainer brown females are far more elusive as they tend their nests in the thick bushes. During migration, flocks are more easily observed as they forage in brushy fields. Where Lazuli and Indigo buntings overlap in breeding range, on the Great Plains and parts of the Southwest, they often interbreed.

adult male

Varied Bunting

Brushy country near the Mexican border provides a summer home for this elegant bunting. The dense and thorny nature of its habitat may make it seem hard to approach, but the bird is not especially shy, and sometimes may be watched at very close range. In Arizona, where its nesting is timed to the summer rains, male Varied Buntings may be in full song on mornings in August.

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