Wildlife in Your Backyard: Attracting Indigo Buntings

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A Male Indigo Bunting on a tree branch

A Male Indigo Bunting

The Indigo Bunting is a beautiful backyard bird with a song that persists into late summer. Their summer territory covers most of the United States, and they prefer weedy, uncultivated fields and roadsides. Although it may be difficult to attract them in the city, they are a common site in rural areas, and their colour, singing, and love of insects and weed seeds makes them a desirable addition to any backyard habitat. By attracting these birds, they can help rid your garden of nuisance insects and weeds, year after year.

Male Indigo Buntings are bright blue during breeding season, and brown with bluish tints or feather tips the rest of the year; females are brown all year. They are mostly monogamous birds, and raise two broods in the spring. Males sing to attract mates and defend their territory, and will usually choose the highest perch available to sing.

Indigo Buntings like tall grasses and a weedy appearance. While in the countryside this is relatively easy to accomplish, in urban areas a bed of tall ornamental grasses, such as Pampas grass, Western Wheatgrass, Buffalo Grass, or other ornamental grasses, can be used to attract these vivacious birds to your yard. Once they have been attracted, they will tend to return to the same nesting sites year after year, finding their way back by means of the stars, which they memorize as young birds. In fact, Indigo Buntings released hundreds of miles from their winter nesting quarters manage to find their way back to previous breeding sites. Indigo Buntings in captivity, in fact, become disoriented during migrating season if they are not able to see the stars.

Indigo Buntings like to feed on small seeds like those that weeds produce, as well as spiders, larvae, small insects, and will vary its diet with buds and berries, but these birds do not generally need a source of water except for occasional bathing. To attract them, it is best to have small seeds scattered on the ground and leave them undisturbed. Indigo Buntings will not approach a nest if there are humans or predators nearby, so keep your cats and dogs leashed during breeding season. Since their nests are only one to three feet from the ground, usually in a dense shrub, their nests are vulnerable to predators, so protect the nests as much as possible by putting fencing around them.

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