Indigo Bunting Bird (Passerina cyanea)

indigo bunting bird

The indigo bunting bird (Passerina cyanea), also known as the blue canaries, blue canary bird, or the indigo blue bird, is a medium-sized songbird that’s native to most of North America and part of South America.

The adult male indigo bunting has dark blue feathers with black streaks and spots, while the female has duller feathers with less black streaking. Indigo buntings migrate to warmer areas during the winter months and can be seen in parks and gardens in those areas at that time of year.

The blue canary bird makes its nest on the ground and lays four to six eggs in it, which hatch after about 12 days.

The blue canaries are small, beautiful songbirds that like to keep to themselves in the blue canary bird family (Cardinalidae). They’re also known as indigo buntings, indigo finches, and indigo birds depending on where you live.

Although they’re only 10 to 12 inches long, male indigo bunting birds have striking blue feathers and red eyes with bright orange beaks, making them easy to spot as they sing out their songs.

Description

indigo bunting bird

The indigo blue bird is a gorgeous songbird with an array of iridescent colors on its head and back. It is North America’s largest member of the bunting family, but it has a notably small body.

The male’s song varies regionally, sounding sweet to some and grating to others. Female indigo buntings lay three or four eggs in nests made out of plant material and hidden in thick foliage. Males help feed females during incubation, which lasts for about thirteen days.

Once the chicks hatch, both parents work together to feed them until they fledge. Chicks will fledge after twelve days and spend their first night away from their nest tree as part of a group before they disperse into adulthood.

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Scientific name

The scientific name of the indigo bunting bird is Passerina cyanea

Indigo bunting habitat

There are many habitats in which the indigo bunting lives, including brushy forest edges, open deciduous woodlands, second-growth woodlands, and farmlands. In cases where forests have been cleared and land has been developed into farms, population sizes have increased.

Indigo bunting size and weight

The indigo bunting bird weighs about 11 to 18 grams (0.4 to 0.6 oz) on average and can measure up to 11 to 13 cm (4.3 to 5.1 inches) in length with a wingspan of around 18 to 23 cm (7 to 9 inches).

Feathers and plumage

indigo bunting bird

The Indigo Bunting is a passerine bird in the bunting family. The plumage of this species is highly variable with males having mainly green, blue, and purple-blue feathers that are iridescent.

Indigo bunting female birds tend to have brownish or green-brown shades on their heads and upper parts and white or cream under parts. The appearance of the male can change depending on the breeding season: in the summer, adult males are more vivid; while in the winter, males will have less vibrant feathers.

Molting

Before the season changes, the Indigo Bunting bird will replace all of its feathers with new ones. This process is called molting. The process takes about 2 weeks and can happen any time of year.

As long as it’s not winter, you can easily spot a white feather under the new one that is still poking out of the skin-colored plumage on their body and wing feathers. When they are done molting, they will have blue back feathers and orange to red breast feathers.

If you notice that the light blue has changed to dark blue, then they are probably getting ready for their next molt in order to change into a fresh new color scheme!

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Nesting behavior

A nesting Indigo Bunting may be found in fields, woods, roadways, or railway rights-of-way. Within one meter of the ground, the female indigo bunting selects a concealed nest site in low vegetation.

Nests are constructed in the crotches or forks of branches where twigs grow vertically and diagonally.

What do indigo buntings eat?

The primary diet for the Indigo Bunting consists of seeds from grasses and other plants that grow around these areas. It also consumes insects such as beetles, cicadas, and ants. This bird often searches for food on the ground but will occasionally glean prey from low-hanging branches of trees or bushes when nothing else is available.

Indigo bunting sound and vocal behavior

There is a persistent singing pattern among male Indigo Buntings. From treetops, telephone wires, and other elevated perches, they can be seen whistling their sweet, double-noted song even on the hottest summer days. Often heard and easily recognized, their spike-like call can be easily identified.

When young Indigo Buntings are learning to sing, they observe and imitate older males and then develop their own phrasings after observing and imitating them.

Breeding

indigo bunting bird

Indigo buntings primarily breed between May and September, with the majority of breeding activity taking place between June and August. There is a possibility that they may raise more than one brood each season, and they may switch nests or mates from one brood to another.

It may take up to eight days for the female indigo bunting to select a nest site and build the nest. They build their nests in shrubs in fields, along roadsides, and by railroad tracks. In order to construct these structures, leaves, grasses, stems, and bark strips are used. One to four (usually three or four) white indigo bunting eggs are laid by the female after the nest has been completed.

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In the early morning hours of each day, one egg is laid. Once the last egg has been laid, the female begins the process of incubation. The incubation period lasts between eleven and fourteen days (usually between twelve and thirteen days).

Indigo bunting babies are brooded by the female for the first few days following hatching. Her responsibilities include feeding the chicks insects and removing their feces from the nest. It takes the baby indigo bunting 8 to 14 days after hatching to leave the nest, and they become independent after 3 weeks of fledging. It takes a baby indigo bunting one year to reach sexual maturity.

Lifespan

The average lifespan of the Indigo bunting bird is 10 to 14 years, with a maximum documented lifespan of 15 years.

Indigo bunting range map (migration)

Using the stars as guidance, they migrate long distances at night. During the late 1960s, researchers studied captive Indigo Buntings in a planetarium and under the natural night sky to demonstrate this process. Despite the movement of a star through the night sky, the birds are able to continuously adjust their angle of orientation to the star due to an internal clock.

The indigo bunting migration is approximately 1,200 miles each way during the breeding season in eastern North America to its wintering areas in southern Florida and northern South America.

In general, breeding buntings migrate more or less due south, which means that those who breed in eastern regions of their breeding range also live in eastern regions of their winter range. In contrast, those whose breeding range is located in western regions of their winter range will be located in western regions during the winter months.

Diseases and threats

Threats to this species are primarily loss of habitat through development and agricultural intensification, which has contributed to the decline in populations. Larger birds compete with indigo buntings for nesting sites and food sources.

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In addition, the conversion of forest habitats into corn fields eliminates or degrades important habitat components such as understory shrubs and leaf litter that are used by this species.

Population status

A total of 78,000,000 Indigo buntings breed in the United States, according to the online resource. IUCN Red List currently classifies this species as Least Concern (LC), however, its numbers are declining.

Conservation and management

Habitat loss is the biggest threat to indigo buntings, as they live in brushy fields and open woodland, making them vulnerable to suburban development. Providing nesting opportunities on post-construction sites and preventing invasive plants are ways that people can help reduce this threat.

Birds should be monitored after release to ensure survival.

Other threats include collisions with windows and cars; in these cases, caretakers should try to install window films or vehicle wrap films with ultraviolet markings for additional protection.