Often referred to as “a slice of the sky,” the Indigo Buntings are among the most attractive backyard birds in North America. If their striking plumage isn’t reason enough for you to be drawn to them, listen to their song once, and you’ll be a fan.
However, these little birdies can be quite reserved about approaching backyards, which is why attracting them is not an easy job.
Here are 4 effective ways to attract indigo buntings to your yard:
- Offer them food that they like: The diet of indigo buntings changes according to the season. Therefore, learning more about their diet is the key to invite them to your yard.
- Encourage ground feeding: Indigo buntings are fond of ground foraging, which is why you can scatter seeds on the ground to draw them.
- Install bunting-specific feeders: For small birds like the indigo buntings, hopper or tube feeders are ideal.
- Creating a bunting-friendly backyard.
Are you trying to get indigo buntings to grace your backyard with their presence? Well, we would be happy to help you with your venture. In this article, we will discuss the tips and tricks you must learn to invite these birds to your yard.
Identifying Indigo Buntings
As most birders might already know, there are many blue birds that you can expect to find in your backyards, such as blue jays, bluebirds, and others.
Hence, it is easy for anyone who doesn’t have a thorough knowledge of indigo buntings’ appearance to mistake some other bird for them. To ensure that this doesn’t happen with you, we’ll give you a concise description of what these birds look like below.
Indigo Buntings (Passerina cyanea) is a small species of migratory birds belonging to the cardinal family. You can easily compare the size of these birds to small sparrows. Now, let’s look at what they look like:
Breeding adult male
The breeding adult males are the most vibrant specimens of their species. Most people assume that they have an indigo plumage due to their name.
However, the color of their plumage is actually cerulean blue; it is their head and face that appears indigo, lending them their name. This bright coloration helps them in attracting a suitable mate during the breeding season.
Besides their plumage, these males have greyish black legs and feet and a pale bill. Their wings and tail are black, tinted with shades of cerulean blue.
Non-breeding adult male
The plumage of the non-breeding adult males loses its vibrance during the non-breeding months (mostly fall and winter).
Their otherwise blue body begins to show edges of brown, particularly on the head and underbody. These edges make them appear mostly brown from a distance and, thus, similar to their female counterparts.
The adult female indigo buntings are similar in size and mass to their male counterparts and have identical bills, legs, and feet. However, the major difference between the two sexes is in their plumage coloration.
These birds have no trace of indigo or any other shade of blue anywhere on their body. Instead, their plumage is color in shades of brown, with their underbody being light brown and upper body slightly darker.
Their wings and tails are dark with black edges. The females appear the same throughout the year, regardless of molting.
The juvenile indigo buntings mostly take after their mothers and are overall dull-brown in color.
However, the male juveniles begin to show early signs of maturity, displaying hints of cerulean blue on their shoulders or their tail. The streaks on the breast of these birds might grow darker as well.
Now that you’ve learned enough about these buntings to recognize them from the other bluebirds, we can proceed to learn the hacks that can invite them to your yard.
Foods that you can offer the indigo buntings
Since the indigo buntings are small birds, they have to face tougher competition for food in the wild. This is why, if you can offer them the right food, you can easily draw them into your yard.
But which foods are considered right for these birdies? We’ll tell you.
Just like most other birds, indigo buntings change their diet with changing seasons as well. Let’s take a look at what you should be feeding them at different times of the year:
From spring to summer
In the months of summer and spring, the indigo buntings have a primarily insectivorous diet. It is because they need more protein during these months for breeding.
Once their fledglings are born, the parents feed them animal protein for their healthy growth and development.
Therefore, offering them insects (both live and dried up) can be a huge help and will keep them glued to your feeder during these months.
You can go with mealworms since these are easily available. If you’re putting live mealworms for the buntings (which they prefer to dried ones), make sure that the worms have no way to escape the feeder.
Indigo buntings might occasionally come looking for food to your yard in early spring. At this time, if you cannot find mealworms to feed them, offer them their favorite berries instead, such as blueberries and strawberries.
Between late summer and fall
By the time summer is about to end, the buntings have already raised their brood successfully and are ready to prepare for their southward migration. These birds now need a source of extra fat to keep them warm and energized on the journey.
These months are the perfect time for you to offer them suet. If you put up a suet feeder for them around this time, you’re most likely to see them flocking around in your yard, often returning every day to stock up for their trip.
Winter is the toughest time of the year for the buntings because insects and bugs are most difficult to find.
However, they have adapted to the unavailability of insects by switching to a granivore diet during these months. And when it comes to seeds, they have a lot of choices.
Among their favorites are sunflower seeds, millets, dandelions, oats, thistles, and nyjer seeds. Stock up your feeder with these seeds during the winter, and the buntings are bound to visit.
Ground-feeding: yay or nay?
Did you know that indigo buntings are quite fond of ground foraging? These little birdies rarely pass up an opportunity to munch on seeds scattered on the ground.
In addition to putting out seeds in your feeders, you can also try scattering some of them on the ground to make your yard more alluring to the indigo buntings.
Try to scatter these seeds closer to the shrubs or thicket; it will make them feel less vulnerable while eating.
Pro-tip: If you live in an area with plenty of squirrels, scattering seeds on the ground might not be a good idea for you. It will draw more squirrels than buntings; moreover, the squirrels can also scare away these birdies.
Installing the right feeder
By now, you must have a clear idea of what you can offer the buntings and when. But what about the feeder? Which ones are right for them?
While learning about the food preferences of buntings is essential, finding the right feeder for them is equally important. Indigo buntings are small birds and, therefore, need a hopper or a tube feeder, preferably with a comfortable perch platform.
Is it a good idea to install a birdhouse for them?
Are you willing to help the indigo buntings by providing them a nesting area? Well, installing a birdhouse isn’t going to achieve it.
The indigo buntings prefer to nest in low, shrub, and weed-covered areas where they feel more protected for raising their fledglings. These birds would never nest in a birdhouse under normal circumstances.
Creating a bunting-friendly landscape
Like most birds, indigo buntings enjoy finding their own food more than having it being served to them in a feeder. The trees and plants you grow in your yard are likely a more important factor for these birds than your feeders and what’s in them.
If you can plant the trees, shrubs, and flowering plants they’re fond of, you might not need to do anything else; the plants will do the job for you. Let’s take a look at what these birdies like:
Native plants that they’re drawn to:
- Red mulberry
- Pin cherry
- American Holly
- Highbush blueberry
- Black cherry
- Highbush cranberry
Flowers and vines that they like:
- Wild Blackberry
- Red columbine
- Blazing star
Providing them with a water source
A water source is invaluable to all birds, indigo buntings included. Having a water source closer makes it convenient for these birds, as they wouldn’t need to travel long distances to drink it. If you have a natural pond close to your house, you’re very fortunate and needn’t do anything else.
However, if that’s not the case, you should consider getting an artificial water source installed for drawing birds to your yard.
You can either go with a small patio pond, a fountain, or a birdbath. We’d recommend the last one as it is easy to maintain and comes with various customization options (such as heating).
Other bunting species that you can attract
As you might already know, the family of buntings is a large and diverse one, containing 44 unique species, out of which 9 can be found in North America.
And although all these birds have varying eating and nesting habits, you might find some of them in your yard while trying to attract the indigo buntings. Let’s tell you which bunting species are most likely to visit your yard, besides the one you’re after:
1. Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)
Exclusively found in the high tundra of North America, the Snow Buntings are the only passerines known to live that far in the north.
As their name suggests, these ground-dwelling birds are mostly white in color, with their wings being a mixture of white and black. They are sexually dimorphic, wherein the females resemble a sparrow but are whiter.
2. Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena)
Named after the famous gemstone Lapis Lazuli, the Lazuli Buntings are closely related to Indigo Buntings but have lesser blue on their body. The head and back of the males are a shade of lighter blue than the latter, with their blue wings edged with black.
However, their underbody is mostly white, with a touch of rufous on their breast. On the other hand, the females have a greyish head and back, with their underbody colored in light brown.
3. Varied Bunting (Passerina versicolor)
The Varied Buntings are a striking bunting species found in North America. The males have a vibrant, purple-red body with a touch of blue here and there.
On the contrary, their female counterparts are mostly dull brown in color and resemble the female indigo buntings closely. These buntings prefer to inhabit the thickets, scrub woodlands, and thorn forests of the deserts and are found in the southern parts of North America.
4. Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris)
Of all the bunting species found in North America, the Painted Buntings are the most colorful ones. The males of this species are so colorful that they’ve been nicknamed “Nonpareil,” which means “without an equal.”
They have a dark blue head, green back, red breast, and underparts, with their wings being a mixture of all these colors. The female painted buntings are very pale in contrast, with having an overall greenish-yellow body.
Frequently asked questions
Are indigo buntings a migratory species?
Yes, indigo buntings are long-distance migrants that travel over 2000 miles in a year.
Do indigo buntings mate for life?
No, they do not. In fact, only 85% of the male indigo buntings stay monogamous throughout a breeding season, with the rest 15% having more than one mate.
Do indigo buntings have blue feathers?
No. The feathers of indigo buntings are actually black in color. However, due to their unique feather structure, when light falls on them, it diffracts in a way that makes them appear iridescent blue.
Conclusion: How to attract Indigo Buntings to your yard?
While indigo buntings can be a striking addition to your backyard, you must remember that these birds are extremely shy and prefer to inhabit areas undisturbed by the human population.
Therefore, drawing them out of their comfort zones and into your yard can be a time-taking process. However, if you’re willing to be patient and can create a bunting-friendly environment in your yard, you might see them sooner than you think.