Indigo Bunting

Range Map
Passerina cyanea

In winter, the male Indigo Bunting changes to an unassuming coat of pale brown, sometimes streaked or flecked in blue, but come spring they transform into one of the most striking birds one might hope to see. The brilliant blue displayed by these birds does not come from pigmented feathers, but a prism effect. Because of the structure of their feathers, it bends and projects this bright indigo color.

Today’s science tells us this species is monotypic, meaning there are no recognised subspecies. Most of these birds breed in the USA, east of the Rocky Mountains and spend winters either in southern Mexico or Central America, but Florida, the West Indies, and the Caribbean Islands also host a winter population.

When Indigo Buntings migrate, birds breeding in the eastern USA and southern Canada usually winter further east than those birds breeding in the west. Researchers have conducted experiments with captive birds in planetariums and learned these birds migrate at night, and used the stars for navigational guidance.

Until I visited south Texas in 2020, I’d never met these avian jewels. When I returned to the region in 2021, I was pleased to make their acquaintance again.


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