Conservation Guardians of Northwest Illinois
The Conservation Guardians offer numerous opportunities for birders of all levels of experience, novice to expert. Everyone is welcome to join us.
See our Calendar for information about other birding events that we may sponsor.
What do Harris' sparrow, Townsend's solitaire and snowy owl have to do with each other? Hotlines!
Thanks to ever observant birders, hotlines reward with some great finds, and these three were spotted by two of our bird nuts in mid-February after they called the Madison, WI Hotline.
Winter, storms, and migration can bring birds not normally seen in our area.
Try one of these hotlines:
• Madison: (608) 255-2476
• All of Wisconsin: (414) 352-3857
• Chicago: (847) 265-2118
• Rockford: (815) 965-3095
• Iowa: (319) 338-9881
Do not endanger the welfare of birds and other wildlife.
Act in ways that do not harm the natural environment.
Respect the rights of others.
Birding accounts appear regulary in the Guardians' newsletter, linked each quarter in pdf format from our home page. The following account appeared in the newsletter for spring of 2009.
Every spring I hear it more and more
often: “I saw the most beautiful, bright blue bird at my feeder
what is it?
Seasoned birders know it’s the indigo bunting, a bird that can appear black in the shade but in bright sunlight will reveal its incomparable, brilliant indigo blue color.
The indigo bunting is a member of the finch family. It is about 5 ˝ inches long with a wingspan of 8-9 inches. The male is blue overall with some black in its wings and tail. It is the only small North American bird to appear blue all over. Against the sky or in the shade, however, it may appear black. The female is a soft brown overall, with brown streaks on its breasts, a whitish throat, and some blue in its tail. Immatures closely resemble the adult female except are more streaked below.
Indigo buntings arrive in this area in April and will stay through mid- to late October. During spring migration, one of the most common call notes heard at night over Illinois comes from the indigo bunting. The male usually appears on nesting range in May, strongly defending his territory against other males by singing from trees, utility wires, and other open perches, a short series of high-pitched notes—sweet-sweet, where-where, here-here, see-it, see-it. It also delivers a flight song while on wing and sings throughout the day into late summer.
Its habitat consists of deciduous upland and bottom-land forest and woodland edges, regenerating forest clearings, shrubby fields, abandoned pastures and hedgerows, open woodlands and clear-cuts. It is one of the most abundant southern Illinois nesting species, but does nest throughout the state. The indigo bunting usually nests low in the fork of a small tree or shrub, in a vine tangle or dense, tall forb. The female builds a cup nest made of grass, leaves and bark strips and lines it with rootlets, hair and feathers. The female incubates 3-4 white to pale bluish eggs for 12-13 days. It usually has two broods each year. Indigo nests are frequently parasitized by brown-headed cowbirds.
Indigo Buntings feed in low vegetation and on the ground for insects, especially grasshoppers, beetles, weevils, flies and larvae. They also eat raspberries, elderberries, and the seeds of thistles and goldenrods. They will feed on dandelions during spring migration. In an interesting feeding strategy, the indigo bunting lands midway on a stem and then shuffles slowly toward the seed head, which eventually bends under the bird’s weight, giving it easier access to the seed.
Be on the lookout for indigo buntings this spring at your birdfeeders and throughout the spring, summer and fall in trees and bushes.
Buntings will come to a birdbath, especially if it has a dripper or mister. They may or may not stay around long, but they are beautiful birds to watch. Enjoy them!