Ladies and gents, we'd like to create an outlet on Bloom for bird-related ramblings and adventures to share with you. Maybe you've been wanting to get started in the birdwatching hobby (new convo topic with yr gramma!) or if you just like birds and all their beauty in general. Enjoy as we document a regular dose of birding and follow various species while they migrate through and inhabit our areas.
The Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea), is a small bird in the family Cardinalidae. It is migratory, ranging from southern Canada to northern Florida during the breeding season, and from southern Florida to northern South America and the Caribbean during the winter. It often migrates by night, using the stars to navigate.
In the breeding season Indigo Buntings are found in brushy fields, farmlands, orchards, and along the edges of deciduous woodlands. In central Florida their preferred habitat seems to be elderberry thickets adjacent to overgrown fields and orchards. This habitat greatly increased in the 1980s, when severe freezes killed thousands of acres of citrus groves. When these groves were abandoned they became overgrown with weedy vegetation and were ideal breeding sites for buntings and grosbeaks. By the mid-1990s however, most of these abandoned groves had succeeded to oak or planted pine forest, and supported many fewer buntings than 10 years earlier.
Nesting & Breeding
The Indigo Buntings are considered of Least Concern by the IUCN, but their populations are thought to be decreasing, perhaps due to a decrease in riparian habitats. They feed mostly on seeds (white millet, finch and thistle), insects and berries, utilizing whatever is seasonally available in their range. Indigo Buntings are supposedly monogamous, but are known to stray from their partners. They have been recorded hybridizing with the Lazuli Bunting, a similar species, when their ranges overlap. The female bunting builds the nest with no assistance from her mate. She typically chooses a low site for the nest, usually about 3 ft above the ground in a bush or shrub. The nest is a small cup built of coarse grasses, leaves, stems, and strips of bark and is lined with fine grasses. The 2 to 6 white or bluish-white eggs are incubated for 12 or 13 days, and the young fledge at 9 or 10 days. Females nest repeatedly in a season laying as many as 4 clutches but not always with the same male each time.
Nesting in Florida lasts from late April until July. This species is seen in large numbers in Florida during fall (September to October) and spring (April to May) migrations. In the winter Indigo Buntings are casual in north Florida and rare in central and south Florida.
Two male Indigo Buntings were spotted feeding on white millet in the bird garden at Native Nurseries in Tallahassee. Lucky for me I can view them right through the office window. There's still time to catch a glimpse of these guys. They claim territory in Tallahassee at the beginning of April and don't waste too much time allowing us to drool over their iridescent blue color. They are usually gone before May. They communicate through vocalizations and visual cues. A sharp "chip" call is used by both sexes, and is used as an alarm call if a nest or chick is threatened. A high-pitched, buzzed "zeeep" is used as a contact call when the Indigo Bunting is in flight. The song of the male bird is a high-pitched buzzed "sweet-sweet chew-chew sweet-sweet," lasting two to four seconds, sung to mark his territory to other males and to attract females. Click here to listen!
To attract this species to your yard while they are migrating through, fill feeders with seed listed above or place live mealworms on an open platform feeder in your yard near shrubs so they have a place to retreat if they get frightened.
4-11 years in the wild.
Resources: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. 2003, January 6. Florida's breeding bird atlas: A collaborative study of Florida's birdlife.