Living Bird Magazine
Living Bird Magazine
Indigo BuntingPasserina cyanea
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Cardinalidae
The all-blue male Indigo Bunting sings with cheerful gusto and looks like a scrap of sky with wings. Sometimes nicknamed "blue canaries," these brilliantly colored yet common and widespread birds whistle their bouncy songs through the late spring and summer all over eastern North America. Look for Indigo Buntings in weedy fields and shrubby areas near trees, singing from dawn to dusk atop the tallest perch in sight or foraging for seeds and insects in low vegetation.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Look for Indigo Buntings in midsummer along rural roads, where they often sing from telephone lines or wooded edges for hours on end. One of the best ways to find them is to learn to recognize the bouncy quality of the paired notes in their song. During migration you may see large flocks of Indigo Buntings feeding in agricultural fields or on lawns. In fall their mostly brown plumage can make them tricky to identify, but look for tinges of blue in the wings or tail as a giveaway.
- Colorín Azul (Spanish)
- Passerin indigo (French)
You can attract Indigo Buntings to your yard with feeders, particularly with small seeds such as thistle or nyjer. Indigo Buntings also eat many insects, so live mealworms may attract them as well. There’s more about feeding birds at our Attract Birds pages.
- Cool Facts
- Indigo Buntings migrate at night, using the stars for guidance. Researchers demonstrated this process in the late 1960s by studying captive Indigo Buntings in a planetarium and then under the natural night sky. 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.
- 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. A local song may persist up to 20 years, gradually changing as new singers add novel variations.
- 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.
- Bunting plumage does contain the pigment melanin, whose dull brown-black hue you can see if you hold a blue feather up so the light comes from behind it, instead of toward it.
- Indigo and Lazuli buntings defend territories against each other in the western Great Plains where they occur together, share songs, and sometimes interbreed.
- The oldest recorded wild Indigo Bunting was a male, and at least 13 years, 3 months old when he was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Ohio.