article and photos by Kathryn Mann
I love Indigo Buntings. They are among the most beautiful birds in Oklahoma and their song is especially melodic. Blue is also my favorite color.
Close up of an Indigo Bunting in Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Though the Indigo Bunting appears blue to the human eye, they are actually a black bird. Their feathers, however, diffract light in such a way that they appear to be blue. In the wild these beautiful creatures live from four to eleven years. They are very small, only about 5 ½ inches in length.
The male Indigo bunting has a beautiful song, which he uses to attract females. The songs are unique to the territory a bunting calls its own. It learns the song from an older male bunting. Buntings return to the same area each year.
The Indigo Bunting migrates south as far as 2,000 miles to South America, Mexico, and the West Indies between August and October. They travel in large flocks at night using the stars for navigation.
Male Indigo Buntings spend much of their time at the top of tall trees singing
The Indigo Bunting population is in decline for a number of reasons. The primary cause seems to be that because they migrate at night by the stars, their poor evening vision causes many of them to die by running into tall buildings and radio towers.
If the light is just right you can see that the Indigo Bunting is black and not blue
The male Indigo Bunting makes two major changes when they move to their winter home. First, their feathers turn a yellow-brown like the female, and only a few streaks of blue distinguish the male from the female. Second, they stop singing.
There is a place I often go to see Indigo Buntings. I sometimes bring along some bird seed and place it below a tree where one is perching. I then stand very quietly and watch it come down to enjoy some nourishment.
There are many places in Oklahoma where I see Indigo Buntings in the Spring and Summer. This year I have seen between a half and a third less than last year in these areas.