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Indigo Bunting


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Scientific Name: Passerina cyanea

Nest Type: Cup

Nest Location: Shrubs, trees, and vine tangles; 1-15'

Clutch Size: 2-4; avg. 3-4

Food: Insects, seeds, fruit

Foraging Guild: Foliage and ground gleaner

The Indigo Bunting is common in the eastern United States from the Gulf Coast to southern Ontario and west to the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and eastern Texas (Peterson 1980). Its range is expanding into Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona as well. The Indigo Bunting is a common summer resident throughout Minnesota, although it is less numerous in the heavily forested regions of the northeast, and also in the prairie regions of the southwest (Janssen 1987). This species is a short to long distance migrant, wintering from southern Florida through eastern Mexico, south to Panama and the West Indies (Ehrlich et al. 1988). It generally arrives on its breeding grounds in Minnesota during mid-May and begins the return flight to the tropics in early September (Janssen 1987).

The Indigo Bunting is typically found in a wide variety of open and semi-open, early- successional habitats with shrubby vegetation including brushy pastures, aspen clearcuts, overgrown fields (Kahl et al.1985), forest edge (Gates and Gysel 1978, Payne 1982), disturbed forest (Whitcomb et al.1977), early-successional hardwood forests (Holmes 1990), and shrubby swamps (Payne 1982). This species tends to avoid mature forests (Roberts 1932, Payne 1982). Sixty-three percent of the Indigo Buntings studied in southern Michigan by Payne (1982) were located in forest edge or shrubby swamp habitats. In his study of upland habitats in southern Wisconsin, Bond (1957) found Indigo Buntings about five times more abundant in the most xeric continuum interval than in the most mesic interval. Characteristics of these stands were decreasing canopy density, decreasing moisture, decreasing sapling density, and increasing shrub density. Robbins et al. (1989) found a significant negative correlation between forest area and abundance of Indigo Buntings. They suggest, however, that this probably reflects the increased distance of sample points from the forest edge in large tracts, rather than an actual preference for small forests (Robbins et al. 1989).

In Minnesota, the species is found in the same habitats described above, especially along edges, in brushy pastures, and in recently logged areas (e.g., Probst et al. 1992).

The Indigo Bunting places its cuplike nest in the crotch of a shrub, small tree, or tangle of blackberries, usually not more than 5 feet above the ground (Harrison 1975). It often raises two broods of 4-5 young, but is heavily parasitized by the Brown-headed Cowbird in some areas (Ehrlich et al. 1988). The diet of this species consists primarily of weed seeds, but insects such as grasshoppers, caterpillars, plant lice, beetles, flies and mosquitos are also consumed (Roberts 1932, Ehrlich et al. 1988).

Since 1900, the Indigo Bunting has increased in abundance throughout its range as a result of increased habitat created by timber harvest and by abandonment of former croplands. Data collected in the USFWS Breeding Bird Survey showed significant increases in the Great Lakes States and Northeastern States since 1965 (Robbins et al. 1986).