Photo Credit: 
Randy Mitchell | For The Chronicle

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figured after featuring spiders, assassin bugs and butterflies in the last couple of months, it might be nice to get back to the birds.

More insects and spiders will be featured in the future, but this week, the indigo bunting will take center stage.

The male of this species is one of the most spectacularly colored songbirds in North America, in my opinion. It's blue coloring is striking enough, but when the bird is in the sunshine, it borders on amazing.

These birds aren't commonly seen, but they are common in Southwest Oklahoma the spring and summer during the breeding season, in the proper habitat, of course. To be honest, I hear them more than I see them, but they aren't hard to find, if you look.

Indigo buntings winter in Mexico, Central America, the islands of the Caribbean, and a small portion of northern South America.

According to the National Audubon Society, indigo buntings are one of many species of bird that use the stars to guide their migration. The birds have an internal clock that allow them to adjust their angle of orientation to moving stars.

Appearance

Indigo buntings are sparrow-sized, with a conical bill, and have a finchlike appearance.

Breeding male indigo buntings are a spectacular bright blue all over, with a richer blue on their heads. There is black coloring on the wings, and in front of the eyes.

Females are brownish above, light below, and have faint streaking on the breasts.

Immature birds and females are similar in appearance. Some females even have tinges of blue on them, however, so it can be difficult to distinguish them from immature males.

Habitat

Brushy and weedy areas. Think overgrown fields, brush piles and the edges of woodlands.

Range

Indigo buntings can be found all over Oklahoma during the breeding season but are more common over the eastern two-thirds of the state. The breeding range extends from the Plains Sates to the East Coast. There are also some breeding populations found in New Mexico and Arizona.

Food

During the breeding season, indigo buntings eat mostly insects and spiders. Insects include grasshoppers, caterpillars, cicadas, aphids and beetles.

In fact, just recently, I was out photographing nature near Wintersmith Park, and I saw a female indigo bunting with a fat, bright green caterpillar grasped in her beak. The striking contrast between the bird and the caterpillar would have made a great photo, but she flew away before I could press the shutter button. Bummer.

They also eat small seeds, berries and buds, especially when insects are scarce.

Odds and ends

• The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports that indigo buntings can be attracted to yards with feeders, particularly with small seeds such as thistle or nyjer.

• The Cornell Lab also reports that, like all other blue birds, indigo buntings lack blue pigment. Their jewel-like color comes instead from microscopic structures in the feathers that refract and reflect blue light, much like the airborne particles that cause the sky to look blue.

 

Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birdwatcher, nature enthusiast and photographer for more than 40 years. Reach him at rnw@usa.com.

RANDY’S NATURAL WORLD