GCBO Bird of the Month
Indigo Bunting
by Mike Williams

The Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) was first described by Linnaeus in 1766 from a South Carolina specimen. Considered by some to be conspecific with Lazuli Bunting, the two often hybridize. The genus Passerina contains seven species including Painted Bunting, Varied Bunting, and Blue Grosbeak.

A summer visitor to the US, it breeds across the east from southeast Canada to Florida and west as far as eastern Arizona. It winters in Southern Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean islands. Typically seen during migration on the Texas coast, Indigo Buntings do breed in central and east Texas.

Preferred habitats are open scrub and brush, old fields and overgrown hedgerows, woodland with open clearings and forest edges.

Indigo Buntings build a complex cup-shaped nest made of grass and leaves in low bushes or small trees. 3-4 light blue eggs are laid and incubated 12-14 days by the female only.
A voracious seed eater, Indigo Buntings will eat mostly seeds and buds but will also eat insects and berries.


Male Indigo Buntings are very distinctive in breeding season, a small brilliant blue finch often iridescent in bright light. The crown is often a darker blue but tend to be duller in non-breeding plumage. Females and juveniles are much drabber usually being a nondescript brown with poorly defined wing bars, lightly streaked fronts and un-streaked backs. Many older females, or young males, show bluish tinge on tail and shoulders.

Indigo Buntings are quite vocal, their song being a rapid warble with phrases often repeated, “sweet-sweet, sweeter-sweeter, here-here”. Chip calls are usually loud and rapid. 

Interesting Facts:

·Indigo Buntings are black and only light diffraction makes them appear blue – this is why light strength affects their appearance!

·Their numbers drastically increased in the last 200 years as human farming increased, but have now declined over 30% in the last 30 years.
·Indigo Buntings navigate by the stars and birds placed in cages suffer from disorientation if they cannot see the night sky.

·A group of buntings is called a decoration, a mural, or a sacrifice.

To download Mike Williams's photo of this cool bird, click HERE

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