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How to Attract Indigo Buntings (A Bird Watcher’s Delight!)

How to Attract Indigo Buntings

Have you ever thought about how to attract indigo buntings? These birds are often called the “blue canaries” or “blue finches”. The cheerful song of the all-blue male Indigo buntings will resonate from their perch as they prefer to position in the tallest tree in your backyard. They have a bouncy quality of paired notes when they sing for hours on end. These birds are widespread in some areas yet more often can only be heard but not spotted totally due to their habits of high perching. 

Having an Indigo Bunting in your garden

Having an Indigo Bunting in your garden

Being so high up means you can only see flashes of blue but oftentimes more of the black color when you try to spot them from below. The rural highways where telephone lines are strung up in poles are also some preferred perches of these birds. To fully see their beauty from your viewpoint, you have to check on areas where these birds go low, like in fields that meet forest areas. These birds love overgrown patches, hedgerows, and brushy roadside and this is a good hint on how to attract indigo buntings.

Having a garden or a backyard wouldn’t be complete without birds adding color and merriment to the landscape. Attracting Indigo Buntings can add brilliance to the scenery, with their flashing bright blue hues.

 These birds are a welcome sight to any birder and attracting them to spend time in your backyard can be well worth the effort. These birds are found throughout the eastern U.S. and Canada. They can be seen during winter but their breeding plumages will be on full display in the early spring. 

They are stocky and sparrow-sized birds that have conical silver-grey bills and rounded tails. You can easily spot the males since they are the ones gifted with the blue hues covering almost their entire body and slightly deeper blue on their crowns. 

They brilliantly display their blue plumages during the breeding season to attract females. Non-breeding seasons give them patchy blue and brown hues. Female and young birds have darker brown feathers on their top and paler brown underneath with light faint streaking on their chest and a touch of blue on their wings, tail, or rump. These plain brown females are inconspicuous most of the time since they do most of the work caring for the eggs and the young hidden in their dense thickets. 

How to Attract Indigo Buntings

How Attract Indigo Buntings

Provide their Favorite Food

Have you ever wondered how to get the indigo bunting coming to your yard in spring and summer? These birds are actually seed-eating but they also like to feed on insects such as grasshoppers aphids. You can attract these birds to your yard with feeders containing small seeds of thistle or nyjer. Preparing some mealworms can also be a welcome treat for them. Those who try to lure them to stay for a while in their backyard may find the task challenging even for people who live within their range. 

These birds visit feeders during migration but not during the breeding season when they prefer to find what to eat in woodlands where there are grass and weed fields. Like other bluebirds, they feed on the fresh and natural products of these areas like spiders, insects, fruits, and seeds. 

You can try attracting indigo buntings to your backyard by using sunflower seeds for those who stop by. However, most people who have done this observed that they prefer to feed on the ground rather than eat off of feeders. 

They have a particular preference for proso millet, where we can deduce it is their favorite seed. They also like black oil, hulled sunflower seeds, and Nyjer. Use a finch feeder or a tray feeder with perches designed for smaller birds to attract their attention. 

Don’t forget to put on a birdbath as water is essential to all birds, and can save them miles of flying just to locate a watering hole to quench their thirst. You need to regularly check on your birdbath to clean them up from fallen leaves and bits of food and other dirt. 

Provide an Ideal Habitat

One of the best ways to attract these birds to your backyard in spring and summer is to pattern your backyard like it’s an ideal place for them to live. Berry producing shrubs like blueberries, serviceberries, elderberries, and strawberries which they like can be a welcome addition to your backyard. These plants can also attract insects like beetles, aphids and grasshoppers, and cicadas that these birds feast on. 

Having bushes and hedges together with berry-producing shrubs in your backyard can be the ideal Indigo Bunting habitat that may attract them to stay for some time to feed and serenade you with their happy tunes. An indigo bunting prefers to nest on small trees and bushes and having these can get these buntings to your backyard.

So keep the undergrowth of your yard’s edges and cultivate those berries from producing more fruits to get them to migrate in your yard. Taking up these birds as residences in your yard means having hours of viewing pleasure as you see they gather materials to set up their nest. 

Fun Facts about an Indigo Bunting

Fun Facts about an Indigo Bunting 001

The brilliant blue colors of the males are drab brown or black. Their feathers refract and reflect only the blue wavelength when light is on it. This results in seeing them appear blue and sometimes can even display many shades from turquoise to black. 

The migration of these birds happens at night using the pattern of stars nearest the North Star as their guidance. When kept in captivity, these birds can be disoriented when they cannot see the stars in April/May and September /October.

Having an increase of available woodland edges and even power line clearings along the road makes them increase their numbers as they can happily nest and secure the next generation of these birds. 

FAQ About Indigo Buntings

FAQ About Indigo Buntings 001

What kind of seed do indigo buntings like?

Male indigo buntings are a sight to see, with their brilliantly blue feathers and bouncy songs that can permeate the air with cheerful gusto. They have the penchant to whistle their tune for hours on end while perched atop the highest tree or telephone poles in the area. To see them at eye level, these “blue canaries” forage for seeds and insects in weedy fields and shrubby expanses near trees. 

Low vegetation can also provide an adequate feast of insects for these songbirds. During migration, these birds can flock to agricultural fields or lawns in search of food to eat. It can be tricky to identify them as their plumage is mostly brown. The giveaway signs are the tinge of blues that are showing on their tails or wings. Attracting these birds to stay and feed in your backyard can be done using bird feeders in hanging tubes or platform types. 

Placing oiled or hulled sunflower, millet, and nyjer seeds on these feeders can make them favor your backyard.  You can also scatter them as they like to feed on seeds fallen in the ground than the actual feeder. Having trees and shrubs surrounding your area can further attract indigo buntings to feed and stay. Their ideal habitat is areas with berry-producing plants and flowers as these can provide inconspicuous nesting areas for them and their young. A watering hole can also be a great attraction since birds of all kinds travel great distances in search of water. 

Having a clean birdbath and regularly inspecting it for dirt and fallen leaves may further make your area attractive to the indigo buntings to take up residence during the months when they need to breed. Your efforts to attract them to set up their nest in your area will be rewarded. You will enjoy watching their activities on a daily basis. 

Do indigo buntings use birdhouses?

Predominantly migratory, indigo buntings are known long distant travelers, capable of flying about 1200 miles, one way. They fly to Simcoe County, located in the central portion of Southern Ontario, Canada in the late spring to breed. In the fall, these birds will return to southern Florida to northern America as these places are their wintering areas. They may be in the category of small birds but their size is not a hindrance to their attractiveness. Buntings can reach 9-9 inches wingspan and a body length of 6 inches. It can weigh, on average, no more than 0.5 oz.

 The blue hue of the breeding males, with the brightest color tone atop their crowns, accounts for the buntings to have their “indigo” name. Catching a glimpse of these birds won’t allow your eyes to look away as their bright-blue plumages are a sight to behold. Most birdwatchers declare the male and nonbreeding males of indigo buntings as the most beautiful birds ever produced by nature. During the breeding season, the indigo bunting will likely build nesting areas that can protect their eggs and their young later. 

They favor shrubs like wild blackberry for nesting probably because these are known to have sharp thorns that can protect their nest from predators. They also build nests on small trees and bushes. Some people may provide nesting boxes or birdhouses in their yards to attract them to nest, but indigo buntings prefer to build their own nest. 

Birdhouses can be the site for your feeder where they can visit and get food and water. You can always make your yard or garden attractive to these migratory birds by having a different variety of native plants and shrubs. They will favor nesting in your yard if you also have undergrowth around your yard’s edges that can serve as their nesting grounds. 

Having these different plant varieties can also attract insects like beetles, cicadas, and aphids that can provide additional food sources for these birds aside from the berry-producing plants in your area.

Are indigo buntings rare or are wild birds unlimited?

Indigo buntings or Passerina cyanea are a familiar sight in Southern Canada and in the Eastern United States. Their attractiveness is due to the males having the unnatural blue hue that brightly covers their breasts and backs and a richer blue on their faces. 

They display the different blue intensity plumage during the summer months. In fall, males lose the blueness of their plumage and can resemble brown females. Summer is the month to breed for these birds and they are often perched on treetops or roadside wires. They breed in brushlands, woodland edges, and even on power line cuts. 

These shrubland species decline in numbers when their breeding grounds are converted to suburbia or use for large-scale agriculture. They are a rare sight in urban or suburban areas where there is a scarcity of their needs.    

Do indigo buntings eat sunflower seeds?

Sunflower seeds are among those that indigo buntings like. During migration, some bird lovers may place an abundance of seed varieties in their yard or garden to attract these migratory birds to feed. Birders do notice that they do visit bird feeders during migration but seldom in the breeding season.

 Since most of these birds choose breeding areas that can provide a safe nesting place and food, they are mostly nestled in woodland areas with plenty of grass and weed fields. These areas can provide them with a variety of meals like fruits and seeds and also spiders and insects. 

Tempting these birds to feed and stay in your yard, may require patience and learning what their seed preferences are. Having black oil and hulled sunflower seeds together with nyjer is a good seed combination on the bird feeder. You can place perches designed for smaller birds together with the feeder. 

One of their favorites, the white proso millet can be a welcome addition to these seed varieties. Avid birders prepare proso millet at springtime so that they can attract these birds as soon as they arrive in their area.

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Lisa Hayden-Matthews

Lisa Hayden-Matthews

A bike rider, triathlon enthusiast, amateurish beach volleyball player and nature lover who has never lost a dare! I manage the overall Editorial section for the magazine here and occasionally chip in with my own nature photographs, when required.

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