I had the good fortune yesterday to see two male Indigo Buntings in summer coats the color of a clear blue sky. The structure of their feathers refracts and reflects blue light as dust particles do in making the sky appear blue. Black trim on the bunting’s wings and a silver bill give this member of the finch family an elegant look.
As I watched from my car, one male bunting alternately preened and sang from a fence post to stake out his territory. Another male scrambled about in tall grass beside the road, probably in search of something to eat.
Indigo Buntings perform a valuable service as they consume grasshoppers, beetles, cankerworms, flies, mosquitoes, cicadas, weevils and aphids. Diet also consists of seeds of raspberries, grasses, thistle, goldenrod, dandelions and other weed seeds. It is well worth the effort to provide suitable brushy habitat and shrubby forest edges to assure a healthy population of these attractive little songsters. – Chipperwoods Bird Observatory
Like several other birds that live in the park, the Indigo Bunting is on the decline in most of the United States. It spends only part of the year here, migrating in fall to Central America, charting its course by the stars.
Not far from the foraging male bunting, I saw on a fence a plain-dressed bird in brown with subtle shades of gray and blue. Only later, I realized that it was a female Indigo Bunting, tipped off by the silver beak.
This time of year, Antietam National Battlefield is awash in blue birds. In addition to Indigo Buntings, there are the (much more numerous) Eastern Bluebirds, Tree Swallows and the Blue Grosbeak. Each species has a different shape and secondary colors, making it fairly easy to distinguish one from another.
The Tree Swallow has crescent-shaped, brown wings, a metallic sheen, and a small, pointy bill.
Male Tree Swallow
The Blue Grosbeak is blue all over except for chestnut bars on its blue wings and a bit of black beside its huge silver bill.
The Eastern Bluebird is the only one of the four with red on its breast.
In each of the species, the ladies wear muted versions of their partners’ color schemes; for example, the female bluebird is gray and blue, with a diluted red on her breast feathers.
Both bluebirds and tree swallows continue to fly in and out of nest boxes with insects and other morsels for their young. Some youngsters have already fledged and others are close to it, like this little tree swallow peeking out of box #58.
At one point, the little swallow pushed his head out of the nest box, but quickly withdrew to the cozy familiarity of the box. The yellow at the corner of its bill indicates that it is a juvenile, not the similarly colored female Tree Swallow.
The battlefield is home to many wild animals, including Virginia White-tailed Deer. Typically, I have seen deer grazing the park’s fields in early morning and around dusk.
Often, all I see of a deer is a pair of ears protruding from a vast field of wheat.
Soon, fawns will be ambling across the park with their mothers. Traffic tangles will result as visitors stop their cars to get a look. I hope to be among them. 😉
[Note: Photos of nest boxes were taken with a telephoto lens from a vehicle.]