Indigo Bunting

Spring mornings are the best time to hear and see the largest variety of songbirds. Male songbirds arrive as early as possible to set up and defend their territory. Song is a tool they use to attract mates. Though both male and female songbirds have a variety of calls they use to communicate with each other, it is primarily the males which are known for their singing. As the day wears on, these songsters tend to quiet down. As spring turns to summer, females are sitting on nests or caring for hatchlings, and there seems to be fewer reasons for the males to sing – at least that seems to be the trend for most. However, as the midday heat of summer arrives, there are some birds which continue to sing.

One of these rule breakers is the male Indigo Bunting (photo by Kevin Bolton). This sparrow-sized bird can be found in overgrown fields, hedgerows and forest edges. The adult males are a brilliant blue. I can count on finding at least one Indigo Bunting singing from the top of a pine in the field at my house. I can also find them in the thicket along the corn field edge at Valentine Farm Conservation Center. This bird has a high, melodic song that it repeats over and over from a high perch. I don’t have to get up early to hear or see them. These guys will continue to sing well into the day and well into the summer.

Females are a very plain brown, which can be confused with other sparrows. In fact, the blue which the males are known for, does not come from an actual “color” within the feather. I’m told there is no blue pigment in their feathers. It’s all about how the light reflects. Think of how a prism works. A prism breaks a beam of light into its component parts. In the same way, light reflected off of the male Indio Bunting’s breeding feathers can show up as a deep, rich blue.  Sometimes, however, these same Males will appear black depending on the lighting. Interesting? Yes, but regardless of how it works, nothing delights me like seeing this bright blue bird singing from a high pine with the summer sky as its back drop.

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust which celebrates 30 years conserving the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME or at learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails to [email protected].

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