For the Birds: Indigo bunting brightens a summer evening

Photo by Chris Bosak An indigo bunting perches in a tree in New England, July 2021.

The song sounded familiar, but it had been months since I last heard it.

There is an indigo bunting around here somewhere I said to myself and instantly abandoned my plans for a long, strenuous walk. I knew I’d be at that spot for a while.

I couldn’t tell if the song was coming from the left or the right. It sounded like it was coming from both directions. I thought it was just because I’m getting old and my hearing was playing tricks on me.

But sure enough, there were two male indigo singing: one to the left of me and one to the right.

The bunting to the right was in the shade as the evening sun was dipping below the tree line. The bird to the left was illuminated in that magical evening light. I turned my focus to that bird.

Thankfully, the bird was fairly cooperative and even posed for a few photos in a berry tree. It didn’t eat the berries, but rather just used the tree’s branches for a vantage point.

It had been a few years since I was able to get photographs of an indigo bunting. Photographing any bird is enough to get my blood pumping, but a bird like an indigo bunting really gets the heart racing — especially when they are being cooperative.

Male indigo buntings are one of the more striking birds we see in New England, right up there with scarlet tanagers, Baltimore orioles and rose-breasted grosbeaks. Indigo buntings, like many songbirds, are sexually dimorphic, meaning the males and females look different. Also, like most birds that are dimorphic, the female is much duller than the male. The difference between the electric blue male and brown female is stark.

I took several shots of the illuminated male. When he flew to a higher perch, I turned my attention to the one in the shade. It was low enough to get some decent photos, although without the sun beaming on its plumage, the bird was very dark — not at all the electrifying blue of the bird to the left.

It’s amazing how different birds look when sunlight hits the feathers at different angles. Grackles are probably the most obvious example of this. Sometimes they look jet black, but they can also look blue, purple or green. I have several common loon photos where the birds’ heads look dark green.

I loitered among the buntings until shade engulfed the entire scene. In addition to the buntings, I also saw catbirds, common yellowthroats, house wrens, song sparrows and chipping sparrows. Barn swallows swept above a nearby field as well.

Mid and late summer can be a slow time for birds, but this particular evening was anything but slow.

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