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Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting
Indigo Bunting
Photo by: 
Mary Nemecek

Some birds just take your breath away! The Indigo Bunting ( Passerina cyanea ) is a bird that definitely takes my breath away. If you see the male in the shadows, he’s just a little black bird, but if you see him singing in the top of the tree in the sunshine, he’s a brilliant, metallic blue. The Indigo Bunting is a small bird, 5.5 inches in length with an 8 inch wingspan, weighing in at 0.5 ounces. The female is brown with a lighter brown breast. Her wings and tail have streaks of blue.

During courtship, the male will sing in flight and will spread his wings and dance in circles around the female. Once copulation is over the male has very little to do with parental care giving. The female Indigo chooses the site, builds the nest, broods the eggs and feeds the young by herself. The nests are usually built in dense shrubs for protection from predators. Most nests will have three to four eggs that will hatch after 12 – 13 days. The young are ready to fledge in about ten days.

It is surprising to people when they learn how truly common Indigo Buntings are in our area. They are a classic bird of the forest edge and brushy clearings, both habitats are bountiful in Missouri. The way to get a feel for how widespread these little blue birds are, is to learn their song. The up and down lively three or four paired notes can be heard loud and clear when you are in their habitat.

Indigo Buntings eat mostly insects, with seeds and fruit for variety. In the spring many of our customers have had them stop at their feeders. Sunflower chips and millet, on the ground or in a feeder, are good seeds for attracting buntings during migration. They usually won’t be at your feeders for more than a few days, but while they are, it is breathtaking!!

By Ruth Simmons