For the Birds
For the Birds - Your Guide to Attracting Birds in Your Backyard
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How to Attract Indigo Buntings (Passerina cyanea)

These small bright birds make their way north from as south as Central America during the spring, and settle into much of the U.S. (east of the Great Plains) and southern parts of Canada for the spring and summer. They prefer temperate as well as tropical habitats. They live in large, open brushy spaces like overgrown fields, open woodlands, and abandoned farmlands and they also make their homes in citrus orchards and swamps.

These birds are often confused with Blue Grosbeaks, but there a few ways of distinguishing between them. Grosbeaks are larger birds; they also have larger beaks than the Bunting's sparrow-like beaks, have a light brown spot on their shoulders, and have bars on their wings.

They are in the finch family and a cousin of the Cardinal. The males are as brightly colored as a Cardinal, except they are a deep blue. They are about 4-5" long and as for coloring, the females have dark brown upperparts and medium brown bellies with bluish stripes on their tails (mainly younger females), while the males have that rich indigo plumage with darker blue crowns and blackish wings and tails. They have short beaks similar to sparrows.

What Indigo Buntings Eat

Indigos like a variety of food, including seeds, nuts, berries, insects, mosquitoes, flies, aphids, small spiders, buds, rice, goldenrod, thistle, grasses, and herbs. So they are likely to eat any type of good bird food, though putting out birdseed with real nuts and fruits one of the best ways to attract these bright birds. Buntings also prefer small seeds over large ones.

Feeders for Indigo Buntings

They prefer to eat on hopper feeders and platform feeders. The Bunting is a cousin of the Cardinal, and probably because of this they prefer many of the same things, so you can also use a Cardinal feeder as well as Cardinal food to attract them.

Male Buntings have a complex song which they use to attract females, and once they do, most are monogamous, although about 15% of males do mate with other females. The females choose the nest site and build the nest, and this can take up to eight days. Buntings make their nest out of bark strips, grasses, stems, and leaves. During their breeding season, which takes place somewhere during the months from May to September, the female usually lays three to four white eggs, one per day. She then feeds the chicks and keeps the nest clean for the next few days, then after anywhere from eight to fourteen days, the young birds take off on their own.

After they have settled into a wide, open, North American habitat for a few months, the cold comes in and they migrate during September and October. They will travel as far as 2,000 miles to reach their winter habitat, and they usually do their migrating at night. After residing in a nice warm spot for the winter, they migrate north again around April and May.

While they generally stick with the flock at night, Buntings are actually solitary and spend their days either hunting for food alone or with their mates during breeding season. Between their social habits, their complex song, and their rich coloring, these birds are truly a delight to have as guests!

For more on bird feeders and bird seed or related topics, choose from one of the following:

Bird Feeders | Bird Seed

Visit the Chipper Woods Bird Observatory site for photos and extensive details on the Indigo Bunting's appearnace.

Indigo Bunting photograph provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.