Hello, Stalkers! This is your thirty-third edition of Stalking Mike Blair Outdoors. One week closer to the end of summer and society is thrilled to remind us of that fact. Fall decor is abundant in stores, talk of pumpkin spices and cooler weather have taken over conversations. However, we’re not quite there yet, so we’re going to stay in summer as long as we can! There are lots of different colors that emerge in the spring and summer. Trees, flowers, insects and animals all contribute to the wonderful collage of nature. This beautiful bird one such colorful addition, the Indigo Bunting, sometimes nicknamed “blue canaries.”
This bird is appropriately named because the males of this species is a brilliant blue color. They have a beautiful song and can be heard singing most of the summer from treetops, shrubs and telephone lines. However, the female Indigo Bunting is mostly brown and sometimes has blue on its wing, tail or rump. These are small birds, roughly the size of a sparrow. Indigo Buntings are stocky with short tails and short, thick bills.
Indigo Buntings like weedy, busy areas, especially areas like when fields meet forests, or abandoned fields that has shrubby growth. You can also find them along roads, streams, rivers and on powerlines. Their breeding range during the summer covers most of the midwest and eastern United States as well as the southern states. As a long distant migrant, these birds will fly about 1,200 miles each way between its breeding grounds in the summer to more southern areas in the winter, like Florida, Mexico and South America.
The diet of the Indigo Bunting spans a large variety of small seeds, berries and insects. The most common seed they forage for include thistles, dandelions, goldenrods and grain. They will eat blueberries, strawberries, blackberries and elderberries. Insects and spiders form the majority of their diet during the summer when this prey is plentiful. This lineup of food options includes caterpillars, grasshoppers, aphids, cicadas and beetles. Even the brown-tail moth caterpillar, which is covered with hairs that cause rashes and other problems in people, are fair game for a hungry Indigo Bunting.
These birds will stay more solitary during the breeding months but may flock together during migration. The female Indigo Bunting will build the nest alone, the male may watch but he will not participate. They build their nests in fields and on the edges of woods and roadsides. The female will choose a concealed nest site in low vegetation, hardly ever more than a meter off the ground. She will lay a clutch that has between three to four eggs but may have anywhere between one to three broods per season. The eggs of the Indigo Bunting are unmarked white, although a few have been known to have brownish spots.
Indigo Buntings prefer to stay lower to the ground and in shrubs when nesting and foraging. However, the male buntings will perch up high to sing their songs. They learn their songs when they are young but not from their fathers. Here’s an intersting quote from allaboutbirds.org “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.” You can hear one Indigo Bunting’s beautiful chorus in Mike Blair’s Video Late Spring. Give the video a look and you’ll get the chance to see and hear this beautiful bird.
A couple interesting facts about the Indigo Bunting: They lack blue pigment. Microscopic structures in the feathers refract and reflect blue light, this causes their jewel-like color. It is similar the effect from the airborne particles that cause the sky to look blue. However, their plumage does contain the pigment melanin. You can see this if you hold a blue feather up so the light comes from behind it, instead of toward it. The second interesting fact about these birds is that they mainly migrate at night, using the stars for guidance. They possess an internal clock that enables them to continually adjust their angle of orientation to a star.
So, not only are these birds beautiful, but they sound beautiful, aren’t really blue and they can follow the stars just as well as any well trained sailor, if not better. Have you caught a glimpse of this jewel of the summer? Let us know!