Mystery Bird: Indigo Bunting, Passerina cyanea

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[Mystery bird] Indigo Bunting, Passerina cyanea, photographed at Quintana Sanctuaries, Texas. [I will identify this bird for you tomorrow]
Image: Joseph Kennedy, 14 April 2007 [larger view].
Nikon D200, Kowa 883 telescope TSN-PZ camera eyepiece 1/200s f/8.0 at 500.0mm iso400.

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.


Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:
A blue bird. With a short tail. A moderately short wing. And a thickish bill. Not much else matches that description than a male Indigo Bunting — and one that has attained full adult plumage, with a complete set of bright blue edgings on the flight feathers and wing coverts.
The classic confusion species is Blue Grosbeak, another member of the genus Passerina. But especially in a view like this, we’d see the shorter, darker, white-tipped tail of a Blue Grosbeak, the fatter body, the extensively rusty wings, the blacker face, and the more cardinal-like bill of that larger species. In poor light or at a distance, either species can appear simply blackish, but even then the shorter tail, bulkier body, and heavier bill of Blue Grosbeak should distinguish it readily from the slighter and more gracile Indigo Bunting.
Review all mystery birds to date.

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About GrrlScientist

grrlscientist is the pseudonym of an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who writes about evolution, ethology, and ecology, especially in birds. After earning a degree in microbiology (thesis focus: virology) and working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she earned her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied the molecular correlates of testosterone and behaviour in white-crowned sparrows. She then worked a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she studied the speciation and distribution of lories and other parrots throughout the South Pacific Islands. A discarded scientist, she returned to her roots: writing. Formerly hosted by The Guardian (UK), she now writes about science for Forbes and for the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute and she writes podcasts for BirdNote Radio. An avid lifelong birder and aviculturist, she lives with a flock of songbirds and parrots somewhere in Germany.
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0 Responses to Mystery Bird: Indigo Bunting, Passerina cyanea

  1. Well, after all the agonizing I did the other day, I should certainly know that beak by now. 🙂
    The male’s plumage makes the answer a little easier this time: indigo bunting.

  2. ian kinman says:

    This is a male Indigo Bunting. It does not have the brown on thw wings asociated with a male blue grossbeak, and its beak looks smaller than that of a blue grossbeak.
    Ian Kinman

  3. Albatrossity says:

    Not only is it a male Indigo Bunting (INBU), it is an after-second-year (ASY) male INBU, based on the black (not brown) primaries and the fully blue (not brownish black) primary coverts. Additionally, these birds usually don’t get that nearly purple color on the head until after the second year.
    The first bird I ever banded was an ASY INBU. It looked a lot like this one. Nice bird!

  4. The Ridger says:

    That is the Blue Bird of Happiness!

  5. DeafScientist says:

    [off-topic]
    GrrlScientist,
    Since you’re a parrot fan you’d probably like the news that NZ’s “Bird of the Year” is a parrot, the Kakapo: http://www.stuff.co.nz/4753350a7693.html (with picture)