Indigo Buntings On Wires Tall Trees And Shrubs

Exciting news! Not only have I seen a pair of buntings down the road, I have seen a pair on my property. After all, they do like fields, and shrubby areas. Voila. That’s what I have. The males need taller trees or electric wires from which to call. That’s where I have seen them down the road. After mating, the females normally hide in shrubby areas near the ground. The last favorable habitat is water – a stream or wetlands. That fits my road to a tee.

Nest spots include raspberry or blackberry bushes near farmhouses. Also, barberry thickets or young trees on the edges of woods are popular. One observer studied them in buttonbushes. I’ve just bought some of those to plant. Here’s hoping in a few years I’ll find an indigo bunting nest in them. I’ll look for one just a couple of feet from the ground.

Nests are composed of dried grasses, dead leaf pieces, bark strips and weed stems. The birds line their nests with feathers, grasses, rootlets, and long hairs from animals like Angus cattle and horses that have those. Snake skins woven in the bottom part of the nests have been observed. Inside the cup, grass and leaves are used, and then more grass is added on top of that. That is super soft for those chicks.

Eggs can be laid anytime from May to August. That’s due to what folks call double-brooded. The first brood is usually laid from May to early June and the second in July or August. A clutch is formed of three to four eggs. They are unspotted, and white to pale blue or green. The female incubates them all by herself. There is some disagreement about that, though. There is also disagreement that about which parents care for the nestlings.

After eight to nine days, the birds are still very weak in their flying capabilities, so they stay close to the ground. The menu includes bees, mayflies, butterflies and their chrysalises, other flying insects, caterpillars, and daddy longlegs. What goes in must come out. The female removes most of the fecal sacs. That reminds me of a while back when human moms were in charge of changing diapers.

When the chicks are first born, they are pinkish-orange with very few feathers. The eyes bulge out. The early feathers start appearing after just five days. In another day, the feathers protrude out of the sheaths. After 11 days, they can fly a short distance – maybe 20 feet. What are the males doing during this time- protecting the nest against predators.

Buntings accept young prairie warblers in their nests. I can’t think of another bird that does that – except for the dreaded cowbirds. One study showed that out of eight nests, five bunting nests contained cowbird eggs.

Now, let’s discuss molting. The males have at least five easily identified plumages. The down of the chick is light gray. The next plumage is dark brown. The tail develops greenish edges. The underparts are pale white with narrow streaks on the breasts and sides. The bills and feet are light pink. They become dark as the birds age and eventually are totally black.

For this article, I have used one of my favorite authors- Arthur Cleveland Bent. He lived in the early 20th century. His series, “Life Histories of North American Birds”, include articles by other birders of the time. Many books of this series are available in a wonderful used book store, East Branch Books, in Sherman. While you’re in that area, you could hike the trails and eat in one of several restaurants. No, I’m not being paid to say this.

Good birding to you.