Beautiful indigo buntings have been spotted across the county this month during their spring migration. I am hardly an expert on birds but, since I am trying to learn more, I thought I’d share my research with the readers of this column.
The indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea), is a four to five-inch long, seed-eating bird in the same family as cardinals. Carrabelle’s Rod Gasche sent the newspaper photographs he captured of a male indigo bunting and they are lovely.
Earlier this month, a large group reportedly passed through the Sugar Hill Campground in Dr. Julian Bruce St. George Island State Park.
By the way, according to Whatbird.com, a flock of buntings is called a "decoration,” "mural" or "sacrifice" of buntings. I can certainly understand the first two names. Female indigo buntings are a mousy brown color, but the males are real show-offs.
During spring and summer, when they are trying to attract a mate, the males sport iridescent black plumage. Depending on the angle of the light, they may appear turquoise, black or any shade in between. This is an optical illusion caused by light diffraction.
The males are also very vocal and sing long, complex songs, especially during the early morning hours when, according to Cornell University’s Allaboutbirds.com website, they may produce up to 200 songs per hour. By the way, you can hear some of those songs at both Allaboutbirds and Whatbird.
Indigo buntings migrate to South Florida and South and Central America during the winter, but can be found almost anywhere in North America east of the Rocky Mountains during the warm months. These birds often migrate at night, navigating by the stars, and can become confused under overcast conditions.
Preferred habitats include brushy slopes, old pastures and fields grown to scrub, woodland clearings, and forest edges adjacent to fields. During migration large flocks may feed in agricultural fields or on lawns.
The diet of the indigo bunting consists primarily of insects during the summer and seeds during the winter. They forage in trees, shrubs and on the ground. Researchers at Cornell tell us that you can attract indigo buntings to your yard with feeders containing small seeds such as thistle or live mealworms. They will also readily feed on safflower, apple, suet, millet and peanuts.