Birds Vol 1 #5 – The Indigo Bunting

Indigo Bunting by Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

Indigo Bunting by Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

Vol 1. May, 1897 No. 5




HE Indigo Bunting’s arrival at its summer home is usually in the early part of May, where it remains until about the middle of September. It is numerous in the eastern and middle states, inhabiting the continent and seacoast islands from Mexico, where they winter, to Nova Scotia. It is one of the very smallest of our birds, and also one of the most attractive. Its favorite haunts are gardens, fields of deep clover, the borders of woods, and roadsides, where, like the Woodpecker, it is frequently seen perched on the fences.

It is extremely active and neat in its manners and an untiring singer, morning, noon, and night his rapid chanting being heard, sometimes loud and sometimes hardly audible, as if he were becoming quite exhausted by his musical efforts. He mounts the highest tops of a large tree and sings for half an hour together. The song is not one uninterrupted strain, but a repetition of short notes, “commencing loud, and rapid, and full, and by almost imperceptible gradations for six or eight seconds until they seem hardly articulated, as if the little minstrel were unable to stop, and, after a short pause, beginning again as before.” Baskett says that in cases of serenade and wooing he may mount the tip sprays of tall trees as he sings and abandon all else to melody till the engrossing business is over.

The Indigo Bird sings with equal animation whether it be May or August, the vertical sun of the dog days having no diminishing effect upon his enthusiasm. It is well known that in certain lights his plumage appears of a rich sky blue, varying to a tint of vivid verdigris green, so that the bird, flitting from one place to another, appears to undergo an entire change of color.

The Indigo Bunting fixes his nest in a low bush, long rank grass, grain, or clover, suspended by two twigs, flax being the material used, lined with fine dry grass. It had been known, however, to build in the hollow of an apple tree. The eggs, generally five, are bluish or pure white. The same nest is often occupied season after season. One which had been used for five successive summers, was repaired each year with the same material, matting that the birds had evidently taken from the covering of grape vines. The nest was very neatly and thoroughly lined with hair.

The Indigo feeds upon the ground, his food consisting mainly of the seed of small grasses and herbs. The male while moulting assumes very nearly the color of the female, a dull brown, the rich plumage not returning for two or three months. Mrs. Osgood Wright says of this tiny creature: “Like all the bright-hued birds he is beset by enemies both of earth and sky, but his sparrow instinct, which has a love for mother earth, bids him build near the ground. The dangers of the nesting-time fall mostly to his share, for his dull brown mate is easily overlooked as an insignificant sparrow. Nature always gives a plain coat to the wives of these gayly dressed cavaliers, for her primal thought is the safety of the home and its young life.”

Indigo Bunting female at fountain in yard through window

Indigo Bunting female at fountain in yard through window

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) by Daves BirdingPix

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) by Daves BirdingPix

Lee’s Addition:

Indigo Buntings are in the Grosbeaks, Saltators & Allies – Cardinalidae Family. What a difference between the two as the article said. The Lord gives protection to the female by her coloration so she can sit on the nest and not be noticed. Praise the Lord for His care for the critters and us.

Do not fear therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows (or Buntings). (Matthew 10:31 NKJV)

They are small seed-eating bird. It is migratory, ranging from southern Canada to northern Florida during the breeding season, and from southern Florida to northern South America during the winter. It often migrates by night, using the stars to navigate. Its habitat is farmland, brush areas, and open woodland. The Indigo Bunting is closely related to the Lazuli Bunting, and interbreeds with the latter species where their ranges overlap. (Not sure how the female ended up in our yard, but must have had to land for a drink. Glad it did.)

Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) ©USFWS

The Indigo Bunting communicates through vocalizations and visual cues. A sharp chip! call is used by both sexes, and is used as an alarm call if a nest or chick is threatened. A high-pitched, buzzed zeeep is used as a contact call when the Indigo Bunting is in flight. The song of the male bird is a high-pitched buzzed sweet-sweet chew-chew sweet-sweet, lasting two to four seconds, sung to mark his territory to other males and to attract females. Each male has a single complex song, which he sings while perched on elevated objects, such as posts, wires, and bush-tops. In areas where the ranges of the Lazuli Bunting and the Indigo Bunting overlap, the males defend territories from each another. Migration takes place in April and May and then again in September and October. The Indigo Bunting often migrates during the night, using the stars to direct itself. In captivity, since it cannot migrate, it experiences disorientation in April and May and in September and October if it cannot see the stars from its enclosure.

From by Doug Knapp

These birds are generally monogamous but not always faithful to their partner. In the western part of their range, they often hybridize with the Lazuli Bunting. Nesting sites are located in dense shrub or a low tree, generally 0.3–1 m (1–3 ft) above the ground, but rarely up to 9 m (30 ft). The nest itself is constructed of leaves, coarse grasses, stems, and strips of bark, lined with soft grass or deer hair and is bound with spider web. It is constructed by the female, who cares for the eggs alone. The clutch consists of one to four eggs, but usually contains three to four. The eggs are white and usually unmarked, though some may be marked with brownish spots, averaging 18.7 × 13.7 mm (0.7 × 0.5 in) in size. The eggs are incubated for 12 to 13 days and the chicks are altricial at hatching. Chicks fledge 10 to 12 days after hatching. Most pairs raise two broods per year, and the male may feed newly fledged young while the females incubate the next clutch of eggs.

The Brown-headed Cowbird may parasitize this species. Indigo Buntings abandon their nest if a cowbird egg appears before they lay any of their own eggs, but accept the egg after that point. Pairs with parasitized nests have less reproductive success. The bunting chicks hatch, but have lower survival rates as they must compete with the cowbird chick for food.

Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 May, 1897 No 5 - Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 May, 1897 No 5 – Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited – Introduction

The above article is the first article in the monthly serial that was started in January 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – The Night Hawk

Previous Article –The Prothonotary Yellow Warblers

Wordless Birds – Toucan


Indigo Bunting – Wikipedia

Sounds of Indigo Bunting –

Grosbeaks, Saltators & Allies – Cardinalidae Family


3 thoughts on “Birds Vol 1 #5 – The Indigo Bunting

  1. With regard to Nature Study PubIishers, I have a set of 52 cards of American birds. A 1 – 13, B 1 – 13, C 1- 13, and D 1-13.
    Very lovely (but anatomically inaccurate) drawings of birds from vermillion flycatcher to a Bobolink. Would anyone like them?


  2. Such a gorgeous color! Normally, Indigo Buntings like to dart back and forth across my road, hiding in the tall grass. The funny thing is that they blend in so well into the grass and trees. Not bad for an all-blue bird! :D


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