Birds - Indigo Bunting
( Originally Published 1904 )
(Passerina cyanea) Finch family
Called also : INDIGO BIRD
Length—5.5 to 6 inches. Smaller than the English sparrow, or the size of a canary.
Male—In certain lights rich blue, deepest on head. In another light the blue feathers show verdigris tints. Wings, tail, and lower back with brownish wash, most prominent in autumn plumage. Quills of wings and tail deep blue, margined with light.
Female—Plain sienna-brown above. Yellowish on breast and shading to white underneath, and indistinctly streaked. Wings and tail darkest, sometimes with slight tinge of blue in outer webs and on shoulders.
Range—North America, from Hudson Bay to Panama. Most common in eastern part of United States. Winters in Central America and Mexico.
Migrations—May. September. Summer resident.
The "glowing indigo" of this tropical-looking visitor that so delighted Thoreau in the Walden woods, often seems only the more intense by comparison with the blue sky, against which it stands out in relief as the bird perches singing in a tree-top. What has this gaily dressed, dapper Iittle cavalier in common with his dingy sparrow cousins that haunt the ground and de-light in dust-baths, leaving their feathers no whit more dingy than they were before, and in temper, as in plumage, suggesting more of earth than of heaven ? Apparently he has nothing, and yet the small brown bird in the roadside thicket, which you have misnamed a sparrow, not noticing the glint of blue in her shoulders and tail, is his mate. Besides the structural resemblances, which are, of course, the only ones considered by ornithologists in classifying birds, the indigo buntings have several sparrow-like traits. They feed upon the ground, mainly upon seeds of grasses and herbs, with a few insects interspersed to give relish to the grain ; they build grassy nests in low bushes or tall, rank grass ; and their flight is short and labored. Borders of woods, roadside thickets, and even garden shrubbery, with open pasture lots for foraging grounds near by, are favorite haunts of these birds, that return again and again to some preferred spot. But however close to our homes they build theirs, our presence never ceases to be regarded by them with anything but suspicion, not to say alarm. Their metallic cheep, cheep, warns you to keep away from the little blue-white eggs, hidden away securely in the bushes ; and the nervous tail twitchings. and jerkings are pathetic to see. Happily for the safety of their nest, the brooding mother has no tell-tale feathers to attract the eye. Dense foliage no more conceals the male bird's brilliant coat than it can the tanager's or oriole's.
With no attempt at concealment, which he doubtless under-stands would be quite impossible, he chooses some high, conspicuous perch to which he mounts by easy stages, singing as he goes ; and there begins a loud and rapid strain that promises much, but growing weaker and weaker, ends as if the bird were either out of breath or too weak to finish. Then suddenly he begins the same song over again, and keeps up this continuous performance for nearly half an hour. The noonday heat of an August day that silences nearly every other voice, seems to give to the indigo bird's only fresh animation and timbre.