Description ADULT NONBREEDING MALE Has blotchy brown and blue plumage (caused by brown feather edges); resplendent again by spring. ADULT FEMALE Has brown plumage overall, darker above than below and with two faint wing bars and faint streaking on underparts. JUVENILE Recalls adult female; by first spring, male acquires some blue elements of adult's plumage, but still looks blotchy.
Dimensions Length: 5 1/2" (14 cm)
Habitat Common summer visitor (mainly May-Sep) to weedy fields, scrubby margins to deciduous woods, and similar habitats, often found in the vicinity of water. Winters mainly in Central America.
Observation Tips Easy to see.
Range Southwest, Northwest, California, Western Canada, Mid-Atlantic, Plains, New England, Southeast, Great Lakes, Florida, Rocky Mountains, Texas, Eastern Canada
Voice Song is a slightly descending series of chirpy, slurred whistles, ending in a trilling flourish; call is a sharp stik.
Discussion Familiar roadside bird in many areas, and stunning male sometimes perches on fence wires, twitching tail in an agitated manner. Forms flocks outside breeding season. Sexes are dissimilar. ADULT BREEDING MALE Has mostly uniformly bright blue plumage, darkest and grayest on flight feathers; bill is silvery gray and conical.
Migration Info During winter, Indigo Buntings may be found over a large area from central Mexico to northern South America, but they are most common from eastern coastal Mexico through Costa Rica. Spring migration occurs along a broad front and includes movement around and across the Gulf of Mexico. The population that breeds in Arizona and New Mexico does not take the shortest route from Mexico; these birds fly across Texas before turning to the southwest.
Much of what we know about the mechanisms of orientation and navigation in migratory birds was discovered in experiments involving Indigo Buntings. Using captive birds in a planetarium, John and Steven Emeling manipulated the appearance of the stars to prove that these birds (and apparently many others) orient by tracking the movement of stars surrounding the North Star, rather than by tracking the North Star alone.