Bird of the Week: Indigo bunting

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- This week's bird will be the Indigo Bunting. This is a very popular and charismatic bird, and this is a great time of year to see them anywhere in the state.

The Indigo Bunting is a small (sparrow-sized) bird with a short tail, and short, thick, conical bill. It is a member of the cardinal family. Breeding males are brilliant, irridescent blue all over, with slightly richer blue on the head, and a drab gray bill. Females are drab brown, with faint blue wash on the shoulders and the base of the tail. Immature males are brown, with patches of blue. They begin life as solid brown, and gain more and more blue feathers until their third year, which is when they reach full maturity.

Look for Indigo Buntings (birder lingo is simply "Indigo") in open grassland areas with shrubs and small bushes, or along field edges with trees. They are also common along roadsides, streamlines, and powerline cuts. They primarily eat seeds (hence the heavy cardinal-like bill), and also berries, and insects. They are also common visitors to backyard feeders in some areas and can be attracted to a feeder with thistle or nyger seed.

Males sing loudly and clearly from treetops, shrubs, telephone lines, and barbed wire fences in summer. Their basic song is a clear, deliberate, "sweet sweet chew chew sweet sweet flutter flutter" and their song gets longer and more complex as they get older. For instance an older bird may sing "sweet sweet chew chew sweet sweet flutter flutter sweet sweet sweet chew chew"!

The indigo bunting is a favorite for novice and experienced birders alike. They spend their summers and raise their young throughout Arkansas, and are easily identifiable, both thanks to their brilliant blue plumage and the fact that they are extremely abundant. Watch for this bird in the same habitats you'll find Dickcissels and Meadowlarks occupying. You won't be able to get enough of that gorgeous blue plumage!


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