5 Simple Ways to Attract Indigo Buntings to Your Yard

Seeing an indigo bunting in your yard for the first time will have you running around your house frantically searching for your camera shouting “OMG a blue bird, not a bluebird, a blue bird!”. OK, maybe just me.

Yes, this happened many, many years ago and I had to know what that bird was. The blue color was absolutely spectacular. So, I dove into my bird books and online expert resources and arrived at 5 simple ways to attract indigo buntings to your yard.

5 Simple Ways to Attract Indigo Buntings to Your Yard

  1. Get Wiggly with Mealworms
  2. Offer Small Seeds at the Feeder
  3. Have Water Available
  4. Plant Native Fruit-Bearing Plants
  5. Go Organic

I’ll go into more detail about how to attract them but first I’d like to share where they live, what they look like, their habitat, sounds, diet, and nesting habits.

If you’re in a hurry, feel free to skip ahead to the details around the 5 simple ways to attract indigo buntings to your yard.

Where Indigo Buntings Live

Indigo bunting range map
Indigo bunting range map. Compliments of The Cornell Lab.

Indigo buntings are migratory birds that winter in southern Mexico, South America, the southernmost part of Florida, and parts of the Caribbean.

Spring migration occurs from mid-April to early June, and fall migration is from mid-September to mid-October.

Interesting tidbit: This bird migrates at night.

Breeding takes place in the midwest and eastern states during the summer months (early June – mid-September).

Appearance

Male indigo bunting perched on edge of dish
Male indigo bunting. Photo by Kim Eberly Photography.

Indigo buntings are small, sturdy birds – about 5″ long with a wingspan of 7.5″ – 9″.

The male’s coloring is dependent on age and whether they’re breeding or wintering.

  • The breeding males are an unmistakable bright blue with short, gray, triangle-shaped beaks, and wings of dark blue wings with a brush of tan.
  • The wintering male and first-spring male are patchy brown and blue.
Female indigo bunting.
Female indigo bunting.

Females are the same size as the adult males but instead of the vibrant blue, they’re a soft yellowish-brown and some light streaking on the underparts.

Habitat

Indigo buntings live in brushy fields lush with tall, weedy plants, scrub, and along the edges of the woods. Often they’re seen perched on telephone wires singing for more than an hour.

This bird also can be found in clearings within deciduous woods, and edges of swamps.

During migration, it’s not uncommon to see them in flocks enjoying seed in farm fields. Other than that, they are lone fliers.

Diet & Feeding Behavior

Male indigo bunting
Male indigo bunting. Photo by Kim Eberly Photography.

This bird primarily eats small seeds, insects, and fruits. Favorites include grasses, wheat, oats, corn, rice, alfalfa, dandelion, goldenrod, thistle, serviceberry, blueberry, blackberry, dogwood, strawberry, and elderberry.

Although not frequent, they will visit the feeder as well.

Sounds

Indigo bunting male sings for a mate.

Nesting, Eggs, and Fledglings

Indigo bunting couples will nest in a medium-large size, thick shrub or young trees up to 3′ up. The nest itself is cup-shaped and built by the female from the tightly woven dried plant material and wrapped with spider web. The inside is filled with soft material including animal fur, grasses, small roots.

Generally, couples will have 1-3 broods per season with 3-4 eggs per brood – incubated solely by the female.

Eggs are white with a few brown spots and .7″-.8″ long.

After 12-13 days the eggs hatch and fledglings leave the nest at about the 8-14 day mark.

Indigo bunting babies being fed by Mom while Dad stands nearby.

Five Simple Ways to Attract Indigo Buntings to Your Yard

1. Get wiggly with Mealworms

Dish of mealworms
Mealworms.

Mealworms are actually the larvae of the mealworm beetle and since one of the indigo bunting’s favorite food is insects – this food is ideal and easy to offer.

Live mealworms are commonly available at your local nature store and dehydrated varieties are available online as well as at the local nature store.

Dehydrated mealworms last longer, require no maintenance, and are cheaper but sometimes take birds longer to realize they are actually food, delaying their visit to your yard.

Mealworms can be placed in a dish – just make sure the dish has sides when offering live ones otherwise they’ll climb out and escape!

2. Offer Small Seeds at the Feeder

Male indigo bunting eating seed
Male indigo bunting. Photo by Kim Eberly Photography.

In the wild, this bird consumes small seeds. At the feeder, you can entice them with nyjer (often referred to as thistle) and white millet seeds.

3. Have Water Available

All birds need water to drink and bathe in. Indigo buntings are no different. If a natural source of water is not available nearby consider installing a pond – even a small patio pond will attract wild birds. 

A birdbath is another viable option.  Birds are drawn to moving water so adding a fountain to the birdbath could increase your chances of attracting one.

4. Plant Native Fruit-Bearing Plants

Raspberry bush
Raspberry bush. Photo by Sneha Cecil on Unsplash

Native plants are particularly ideal because they don’t require special treatment to thrive and. Non-native plants often require toxic fertilizers and pesticides which can kill birds.

During the fall and early spring when insects are scarce, many birds, including indigo buntings, rely on the fruit from trees & shrubs for substance.

Here are some ideas for native plants they’ll love:

  • American Holly
  • Black Cherry
  • Pin Cherry
  • Red Mulberry
  • Blackberry
  • Raspberry
  • Chokeberry
  • Chokecherry
  • Elderberry
  • Shadbush
  • Snowberry
  • Bayberry
  • Highbush Cranberry
  • Highbush blueberry
  • Nannyberry
  • Winterberry

5. Go Organic

Avoid using chemicals in and around your yards such as grass fertilizer and pesticides. Indigo buntings, and other wild birds, consume insects as their primary source of food and if you kill them off, there won’t be any to eat.

Equally horrible would be death by poisoning in the case of a wild bird eating a toxic insect!

Next Steps

I think you’ll agree indigo buntings with their vibrant blue color are worth the effort to attract to your yard. Take and apply some of the tips I provided or if you’re really serious about attracting them to your yard – apply all of them! Good luck and happy birding!


Frequently Asked Questions

Are indigo buntings rare?

No. They are not rare. In fact, they are abundant in the geographic areas they live.

Is indigo bunting a finch?

No. They are not a finch. They are actually a member of the cardinal family.

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Tammy Poppie

More than 20 years ago, Tammy put her first bird feeder outside her kitchen window. Since then she learned how to attract wild birds to her back yard (and repel others). In her free time, she can be found in nature kayaking, hiking, and biking always hoping to see a bird in the wild.