• Laurel Contributor

A Jewel of a Bird

by William McReynolds

A little jewel of a bird, the male Indigo Bunting and his more reserved mate are slowly vanishing from local forests.

The male Indigo Bunting, pictured above, is a radiant hue that is well-described as sapphire blue. They are stunning sights in the summer forest

The Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) breeding range covers the eastern half of the continental U.S. from which they migrate due south to winter in Florida and Central America. They fly at night when migrating, using the stars to navigate what could be a 1,200-mile journey.

Their habitat includes forest edges, country roads and tree tops. They characteristically land on the highest perches around them: the tallest tree or telephone poles. From their high perches they spot ground level vegetation that harbors seeds and berries, caterpillars, worms and insects.

The brown mottled female builds the nest in two to eight days while the flashy male guards the territory. The nest is placed a yard or less off the ground in low bushy branches. The nest cup is softened by tender grass, thistle down and animal hair. Three or four unmarked white eggs hatch in 11 to 14 days and fledge eight to 14 days thereafter. She might raise as many as three broods in a season.

These birds are prodigious vocally. Male songsters whistle a high-pitched, lively song: couplets of paired notes, repeated in rapid succession as in “sweet! sweet!” or “what! what!, where! where!, see it! see it!” The males of each locale sing similar and distinct neighborhood songs which are passed on locally from generation to generation.

Indigo Bunting populations declined by 31 percent between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Global warming is altering habitats. Buntings also die in collisions with cars and buildings and in their winter tropical grounds there is a lively, illegal trade in caged buntings and other colorful songbirds. We must remember our Blake: “A robin redbreast in a cage…sets all heaven in a rage.”

Happy birding from the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society. Look for Indigo Buntings foraging low down in the forest and listen for their fluted couplets broadcast from the tallest trees.

The mission of the Highlands Plateau Audubon Society is to provide opportunities to enjoy and learn about birds and other wildlife and to promote conservation and restoration of the habitats that support them. HPAS is a 501(c)(3) organization, a Chapter of the National Audubon Society. Visit highlandsaudubonsociety.org for information on membership and all activities.

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