Indigo Bunting Species Dossier

by Carl Strang

In contrast to the species dossiers I have shared recently, this one has relatively little in it. Indigo buntings, though one of our common breeding birds, are gone to Central America for much of the year, and like brushy areas, so more than a casual observation study would be needed to know much about them.

Bunting, Indigo

Male indigo bunting

Frequently observed along railroad tracks (brushy/weedy) near home in Culver, in childhood. Observed in brushy areas, usually with a few high bushes. Also in forest edges and clearings.

Seems to prefer older old fields with plenty of brush, some tall. Occurs with chat, field sparrow, catbird, cardinal. Song, in Pennsylvania, Indiana and Illinois, quite variable, but generally 2 up-slurring notes and usually followed by 2 down-slurring notes, then a variable jumble of notes. Sometimes only 5-6 notes altogether. Males sing from exposed perches. In 1985, 2-3 males sang in 43-acre Willowbrook Forest Preserve. A male moves very little when singing, tilting his head up and vibrating his mouth with the song. He changes perches at 2-5-minute intervals. Alarm call alternated cardinal-like high notes with low chips.

24MY86. A male at Maple Grove Forest Preserve sang in the savannah area. A close look showed many brown feathers on his breast. A female fed in the same area, deliberately moving among oak leaves on a large branch 20 feet up.

16MY87. First of year singing at a park in Geneva.

Indigo bunting singing, Mayslake

13MY88. First of year singing, Willowbrook Back 40.

3MY99. First bunting of year at Willowbrook.

22JL99. A late indigo bunting singing at Willowbrook. Still singing 12AU.

17SE99. Last one of year noted at Willowbrook.

11JE00. Alarm note strong and forceful. Species fairly common south of Langlade, WI.

24SE00. Several female-plumaged birds in hedgelike borders of Prairie Path at West Chicago Prairie just east of Industrial Drive.

3JE06. Pair mating mid-morning, female perched on a side branch of a 12-foot-tall, 2-inch DBH tree at edge of woods. Male on her only about 1 second, mating accompanied by a forceful buzzing call. About 20 minutes later we heard the call again from them, same area.

23AU10. Indigo bunting and field sparrow heard singing today.

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