Indigo Buntings are among the most common songbirds in the eastern United States. They are also one of the most striking with brilliant blue feathers that have earned them the nickname, “blue canaries.” To help you get to know these birds better, here are some fun facts about Indigo Buntings.
How to identify an Indigo Bunting
Male Indigo Buntings have a bright blue body with a slightly darker blue on their head. They have an almost silver beak as well as some black on their wings. Females are more muted, with feathers that are mostly brown or tan, but they can have some streaking on their chest and may have a hint of blue on their wings or tail.
The males are voracious singers and can be heard calling from fence lines, bushes, and telephone lines, sometimes for hours on end. The females are harder to spot as they provide the bulk of care for their young and spend most of their time in thick patches of brush.
Where do Indigo Buntings live?
The Indigo Bunting’s primary habitat in the summer months essentially covers the eastern half of the U.S., extending from the Atlantic Ocean to parts of eastern Kansas and Nebraska, and from southern Canada down to the gulf coast. In winter, Indigo Buntings head to warmer areas and can be found in Florida as well as southern Mexico and the rest of Central America, and the Caribbean.
Indigo Buntings spend most of their time in thick, dense patches of brush, particularly along the edges of forests or agricultural land. They also prefer weedy fields and other areas with thick shrubs and bushes. Their nests are normally built no more than three feet above the ground.
What do Indigo Buntings eat?
In the wild, the Indigo Bunting’s diet typically consists of a variety of seeds and insects, particularly spiders during the breeding season. They will also eat some berries and are foragers who will feed either on the ground or directly from trees and bushes.
In backyard settings, Indigo Buntings generally prefer feeders with small seeds like nyjer or small bits of sunflower kernels. If you feel like going the extra mile, they are also attracted to live mealworms as well.
Five more fun facts about Indigo Buntings
- Indigo Buntings learn their songs from neighboring males (but not their fathers), creating distinct “song neighborhoods.” These are small areas where nearly identical versions of the same tune can be heard for years until they gradually change over time.
- They often migrate at night and can navigate using the stars for guidance. Their nighttime activities are the main reason why they have been the subject of significant studies into bird migratory behavior.
- Indigo Buntings don’t actually have blue pigment in their feathers. Instead, like other blue birds, they have microscopic structures within their feathers that reflect and refract blue light.
- Their breeding territory has expanded significantly in the last 80+ years to now include more of the American southwest.
- Populations are likely higher today than they were in the pre-colonial period as modernization has eliminated unbroken forests (a difficult environment for Indigo Buntings) and created more brushy areas (where they thrive).