The Wood Folk Diaries: Volume 2, Chapter 3: Meet Indigo Bunting, The Astronavigator

Dear Wood Folk,

Firstly, I want to make note to my more sensitive readers and happen-upon-ers that the indigo bunting (Passerina cyanea) pictured recovering below was observed throughout the summer, long after his run in with a window. What I didn’t know at the time is often birds who’ve collided with windows should get medical attention even if they seem okay. The old adage to just put them in a box in a dark place and wait to see if they fly away is now becoming outdated. Window collisions account for hundreds of millions of bird deaths every year. Many of them happening, sadly, after they fly away.

I am lucky at the One Acre Wood none of my windows line up to look like through-ways or tunnels, so window collisions haven’t been a problem. (That said, they might still fly into their own reflection or something, so decals are still a good idea!) I put up useless bird decals when I first moved here, unaware that unless I had dozens stuck on, covering the whole window with just a couple inches between them, they are ineffective at stopping collisions. Feather Friendly is more like it! Check out their tape. You can also find out more at FLAP. I’ll include these links again at the end of this diary!

Meet Indigo Bunting

Female Indigo Bunting

I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a small brown bird and figured a sparrow has just darted by when it was actually a bunting. Around wintertime they and their young are all brown. But during mating season, the breeding males turn bright shades of blues, turquoise and purples. They may be the most stunning bird around Haliburton, with an hummingbird-like iridescence the scarlet tanagers and yellow warblers don’t have over their own bright colors. In poor lighting a breeding male will just look like a small dark bird. I’ve probably walked right by these stunners too:

Indigo Bunting
Indigo Bunting

This “astronavigator” often migrates at night, following the stars, all the way to the southern parts of sunny Florida to northern South America.

Indigo Bunting Plant Allies

Back in Haliburton come spring, you’ll find indigo buntings more in shrubby areas and especially forest edges.  I see them often along hedgerows and brambles lining the woods. While deforestation has a terrible effect on the planet, this is one of the birds that is probably more common now than before here, due to the old fields that dot our once towering ancient pine forest.

Indigo buntings usually nest well hidden along these edges, where bushy branches meet, supported by twigs. The cup sized nest itself is likely what you’d picture first of a typical grassy, stemmed birds nest (pictured below if not!), but what stands out to me is the leaves included in the weaving. Once the bushes were bare this autumn, I found the 100 Acres Wood indigo bunting family nest, supported by raspberry stalks:

Besides eating insects, indigo buntings are connoisseurs of the plant world. In the spring, they feed on twigs and buds from the likes of trembling aspen, beech, elm, maple, and balsam poplar. Like most animals they love local berries including blueberries, blackberries, elderberries, serviceberries, strawberries, and raspberries. They will go for the seeds of many wildflowers including asters – the star flower for our star navigators, dandelion, goldenrods, our many thistles, wild columbine, and the seeds of our many grasses. The list goes on.

How to Attract Indigo Bunting

Leaving your leaves in the autumn, leaving dead trees, and curbing a mowing habit are some of the things you can do to attract insects – and the insects will attract indigo buntings and other gorgeous birds. They’ll also appreciate the seeds from the wildflowers and grasses left to grow. Planting brambles along the edges will give them more incentive to nest on your property, but keep in mind brambles are spreaders.

Indigo buntings prefer a hopper feeder, or better yet a caged tube feeder. A mix of small seeds and fruit is attractive to indigos. Seedy suggestions include hulled sunflower, nyjer, and millet. Mealworms will also be alluring.

Next month our wood folk diary will be about the brave black-capped chickadee. Until then, here are the window safety links again:

Here’s an especially shareable cartoon on Facebook: “How To Stop Birds From Hitting Your Windows“,

Please share with your friends! The wild birds thank you!

Please Like, Comment, Share! We'd love to hear your stories and knowledge! Thank you!

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