Indigo Bunting

Hey guys, welcome back! The color blue. It has a very interesting history. Pretty sure I mentioned it before, way back when we did blue jay. But the color blue is actually quite rare in nature. This is a pretty good video that briefly summarizes it. Blue is the first thing you see when you look at today’s bird, the indigo bunting. Well, like all birds that are blue, the indigo bunting lacks any blue pigment. Instead, the feathers themselves have microfibers that act to refract light, scattering it and bouncing the blue wavelength to our eyes. Pretty much the same process that makes the sky appear to be blue as well. It’s really pretty cool. The indigo bunting is pretty much the only completely blue bird you will see in the eastern US. There’s really no mistaking it. Females, however, aren’t completely blue like the males. They are a drab brownish color. They kind of look like sparrows but with no markings. Often they do have hints of blue but those hints may be hard to see (if they’re even present to begin with.) Sometimes you’ll see young males just acquiring their blue. These birds look brown with blue splotches.

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Indigo bunting, Central Park, NY

This is our first bunting species, but what the heck is a bunting? Looks like a sparrow. Well, as we’ve established, taxonomy is complicated and often convoluted. The indigo bunting is technically in the cardinal family along with most other North American buntings. There are Eurasian buntings that are small seed eating birds similar to sparrows. The indigo bunting and the other buntings were likely named buntings because they look and act like the Eurasian ones. Taxonomy wasn’t determined at the molecular level back then, and by the time the technology advanced, they were already named, so here we are! To further complicate it, there’s a North American bunting, the snow bunting, which is neither related to the indigo bunting nor the Eurasian ones, though it was at one time lumped with them. (it’s currently in the same family as other sparrows, but not in the same genus) See? Confusing and changing all the time! All you need to know is, they are finch-like birds.

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Indigo bunting, Forest Park, St. Louis, MO

When I moved to St. Louis from NYC, I had to get used to new patterns of migration and breeding. I moved in July when spring migration was done and all the songbirds were on their breeding grounds. Central Park, despite being further north than St. Louis, did not have any indigo buntings outside of migration, but St. Louis did. They nest there. It was one of the first birds I saw like this, letting me know I needed to relearn all the habits and migration patterns. I had a similar situation moving back to Ohio. It’s actually really cool. It adds another layer to your birding to get to observe the same species in different regions and see how their behavior differs! Next up we head into one of the most difficult to ID groups of birds, the flycatchers. Eastern wood-pewee is up next. See you then!

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