Birding Basics to Indigo Buntings

The indigo bunting is one of the most gorgeous summer birds in the East. Learn the birding basics of how to welcome these popular fliers to your area.

The Subject:
Indigo buntings are about the size of sparrows. You can usually pick them out by their short tails and bills. Although they’re mostly Eastern summer birds, you can find them in parts of the Southwest as well.

Birding Basics: Male Vs. Female
From a distance males can look black, but as you get closer or see them from a different angle, you’ll see vibrant blue feathers. Females and young indigo buntings are brown, and even adult males are mostly brown in winter, when they are in the tropics.

Food of Choice
They eat insects, seeds and berries. Though they aren’t common backyard visitors, you can attract them with the same thing you use for goldfinches—a thistle feeder.

Nesting Habits
Females do all the work, building a cup-shaped nest lined with grass, then laying three or four eggs. They generally nest in fields or the edges of woods. If you’re near a cornfield, look for them flying in and out. Maybe you’ll even spot a nest!

Fascinating Facts

  • Indigo buntings migrate at night. They start flying south for winter around September, using the stars to guide them along their way.
  • People sometimes confuse blue grosbeaks with indigo buntings. Their ranges overlap a bit, but the grosbeaks have a more prominent bill and rufous wingbars.
  • To see both lazuli and indigo buntings, go to the Great Plains, where the two species co-exist and even hybridize.