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The Indigo Bird an Intelligent Bunting

Updated on August 8, 2015

Mrs wright

Photograph taken by her husband
Photograph taken by her husband | Source


This another article looking at the birds of North America. Once again the historical facts about the species is taken from the experiences of Mrs. Mabel Osgood Wright. Mrs Wright was married to an English man James Osbourne Wright. She became president of the Audubon Society of the State of Connecticut in 1898.

The black and white plates are the creation of Louis Agassiz Fuertes {1874-1927}

Introducing the Indigo bunting

The Indigo bunting Passerina cyanea belongs to the Order Passeriformes {Perching birds} and the family Cardinalidae and placed in the genus Passerina. It is a small seed eating bird and has a migratory nature. The bird is closely related to the Lazuli bunting and may interbreed where their ranges overlap.

It is one of seven birds placed in the genus. It was once referred to as Tanagra cyanea during the 18th century, cyanea meaning dark blue. It is also related to the blue grosbeak. As far as conservation issues are concerned they classed as being of least concern.

Indigo bunting

Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 generic license
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 generic license | Source

" Every child knows the bluebird, possibly the kingfisher and the blue jay too, but there is only one other bird with blue feathers, the little indigo bunting, who is no longer than a pet canary"-------" mounting by erratic short flights from weedy places and bushy tangles he hunts among the branches of a convenient tree, singing as he goes higher and higher, he remains for a time on a conspicuous perch and rapidly sings. When almost every other bird is moulting and moping, he warbles with some fervour and timbre. Possibly because he has the concert stage almost to himself, he gets the credit of being a better performer than he really is. Only the Peewee and the Red eyed vireo, whom either midday nor midsummer heat can silence, share the stage with him then"

Neltje Blanchan 1907

Mrs Wrights experiences.Description along with accompanying notes

Length--5.50 inches.

Male , deep blue {in some lights have a greenish cast} deepest on the head; rump wings and tail washed thinly with brownish . Bill dark above, lighter below.

Female Above warm brown, whitening on the breast.

Season, Middle of May to the third week in September.

Breeds Through its United States Range.-- Range.Eastern United States, south to winter Veragua.

Beautiful plumage and a very small voice is the sum of the Indigo buntings attractions. It comes in the middle of May with the Scarlet tanager, and if you chance to find these birds in company, as sometimes happens, resting on the same rough fence rail, while a goldfinch swings near them among the wayside grasses, you will have seen the primary colour as illustrated in bird life.

When the bunting feeds upon the ground, as is his usual habit his food consists mainly of the seed of small grasses and herbs, his plumage is brought out wonderfully by the play of light upon it, varying from deep blue to a tint of verde antique, unlike the bluebirds sky blue colour.

The most likely place to find him is in an old bush grown pasture and along the lane hedges. Like all the bright hued birds he is beset with enemies both of earth and sky, but his sparrow instinct, which has a love of mother earth, bids him build near the ground. The dangers of nesting time fall mostly to his shire, for his dull brown mate is easily overlooked for an insignificant sparrow. Nature almost always gives a plain coat to the wives of these gaily coloured cavaliers, for her primal thought is the safety of the home and its young life.


Louis Agassiz Fuertes
Louis Agassiz Fuertes

Indigo bunting and its classification

" When I see

High on the tip-top twig of a tree,

Something blue by the breeze stirred,

But so far up that the blue is blurred,

So far up that the green leaf flies

'Twixt Its blue and the blue of the skies,

Then I knew ere a note be heard,

That 'tis naught but the indigo bird"

Bunting was the formerly the name given to several birds of the Order Passeres, tribe Conirostres {Concial beaks} family Fringillidae and the sub family Emberizinae;

They were characterised by an acute conical bill with a straight or nearly straight culmen, and with lateral margins. The interior of the upper mandible with a palatic notch. The wings moderate and somewhat pointed. The claws are generally curved. The indigo bunting was known by the scientific name of Emberiza cyanea, was one of the birds that Pennant placed under that arrangement, but under classification it was given the scientific name of Passerina syanea. It continued to be a member of the family Fringillidae. Wilson called it the Indigo bird and has since been commonly referred to by that name.

In her book ' Tangled Stars' , Ethelwin Whetherald, conveys to us the song of the bird described very beautifully ---

" When I hear

A song like a bird laugh, blithe and clear

As though of some airy jest he had heard

The last and most delightful word,

A laugh as fresh in August haze

As it was in the full voiced days;

Then I know that my heart was stirred

By the laugh-like song of the Indigo bird.

Joy in the branch joy in the sky

And naught between the breezes high

And naught so glad on the breezes heard

As the gay note of the Indigo bird"

Indigo bunting in breeding plumage

2.0 generic license
2.0 generic license | Source


The great abundance of these little birds are readily determined by their singing. When one of them is apt to sing, and this is frequently, he is apt to commence from a lower branch of some tree or on a fence stake, and has he sings, gradually ascend until he has reached the top most twig of a tree, and is then that he seems to put all his energy into a song. It was just such a song that inspired Mr. Burroughs to write.---

" But most I prize past summer's prime

When other throats have ceased to chime,

The faithful tree top strain;

No brilliant bursts our ears enthrall-

A prelude to the ' dying fall'

That soothes the summer pain"

Borders of woods, roadside thickets and even garden shrubbery with open pastures lots foraging grounds near by, are the favorite haunts of these birds.

Nest and Eggs

Nest building in most regions will begin in late May and Early June and nests containing eggs have been recorded as late as August. These late nests are believed to be replacement clutches, for lost second broods.

Localities chosen by the indigo bunting consist of briers, bushes, and young trees, along roads, or about the borders of fields and streams and on the outskirts of timberland, are the most frequented nesting places. They rarely seem to venture into deep woods or large towns. The nest is ordinarily found close to the ground, seldom higher than eight or ten feet. Located in a fork, but it may be placed among a number of twigs or brier stems, or saddled upon a limb and firmly held by slender branches at the sides. Nests are undoubtedly built directly on the ground, but such a position is exceedingly rare.

The materials used in this avian architecture starts with pieces of oak leaves and corn husks along with fine weed stalks to make the foundation. The main structure is made of oak leaves, roller grasses and rootlets, held in place without any abundance of cobwebs. The lining is of fine rooted grasses and black horse hair.

The clutch of eggs number three to five, generally four. They have been described as faint Antwerp blue, exceptional eggs are plain white and white or bluish dotted with reddish brown. Dr. Couse in his book,'Birds of the North west' states---" The eggs of the indigo bunting is variously described as being pure white, plain blue, or bluish speckled with reddish brown. The fact appears to be, not that these statements are conflicting, or any of them erroneous, but that different eggs vary accordingly. It seems to be the general rule with normally bluish eggs, that they range in shade from white -blue to white and are occasionally speckled"

Indigo bird


Nest of the Indigo bird

The Illustration was taken from a nest in an elder bush 28 May 1877
The Illustration was taken from a nest in an elder bush 28 May 1877 | Source


The incubation lasts for about two weeks. The chicks are fed and grow strong enough to leave the nest at around 10-12 days. During this time the male may be found in the immediate neighbourhood singing to his mate.

Early ornithologists studying the food that Indigo birds ate came to the conclusion that these birds are well worth protecting. In the 1800's Professor King examined 19 dead specimens of the species. He found that two had eaten caterpillars, one had eaten two beetles. One a grasshopper, one raspberries, one elder berries and eighteen of them had eaten the seeds of various weeds. Professor Forbes found that 78% of the food of birds he examined were canker worms. He also noted that they had eaten caterpillars, spring beetles, vine chafers and snout beetles {weevils}


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      4 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Pamela Kinnaird W,

      I am so glad you enjoyed the hub and I agree with you this little lovely little bird is one of my favourites. Thank you so much for the vote up and sharing , it is most appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • Pamela Kinnaird W profile image

      Pamela Kinnaird W 

      4 years ago from Maui and Arizona

      Lovely little bird. I have saved every magazine cover with this little guy on it -- ever since ever. I enjoyed your hub very much, the information and the poetry and all the great photos and illustrations. Voting up and sharing.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Fossillady, Hi, thank you for your kind and appreciated comments. I, also hope the birds return for you to enjoy. Best wishes to you.

    • Fossillady profile image


      5 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

      Your nature hubs are high quality DAL, I love these little blue birds. They come visit my feeders sometimes, mostly on the ground, but I didn't see any last year and was saddened by that! Hopefully, they'll return this year.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      aviannovice, They truly are lovely birds and I hope very much that you do see one or more this spring. thank you for visiting . best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      5 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      These are lovely birds, and I hope to be able to see at least one this spring.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi DDE, thank you for reading. I am pleased that you enjoyed it. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      5 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A beautiful bird with an awesome insight and such a pleasure to read about this North American bird an unusual character.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi, jandee, Always a pleasure to see you here. Thank you not only reading and leaving your kind comments ,but also for being the first to visit. It is appreciated. best wishes to you.

    • jandee profile image


      5 years ago from Liverpool.U.K

      Hello DAL ,

      thanks for another nice write,

      best from jandee


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