What Do Indigo Buntings Eat? (Here’s What to Feed Them)

Indigo buntings are small birds that primarily feed on seeds, berries, and insects, which provide the necessary nutrients for their survival.

Their diet may change depending on the season, particularly during breeding and migration.

Familiarizing yourself with the dietary preferences and habits of indigo buntings can help you better appreciate these beautiful creatures and enhance your birdwatching experience.

Key Takeaways:

  • Indigo buntings mainly consume seeds, berries, and insects.
  • Seasonal changes affect their diet and feeding habits.
  • Understanding their diet can enhance birdwatching experiences.

Indigo Bunting Overview

Indigo Bunting bird in flight
Breeding male Indigo Bunting in flight.

Indigo Buntings are captivating songbirds belonging to the Passerina cyanea species.You may recognize male Indigo Buntings by their striking blue plumage, while females typically sport a subdued brown color. 

Common songbirds particularly in the eastern U.S., they can typically be found in open woodlands mainly throughout North America, including the United States, Canada, and Mexico. However, they also inhabit parts of Central America and Northern South America.

You can frequently hear Indigo Buntings belting out melodious songs throughout the late spring and summer, exploring open woodlands and other suitable habitats.

Their diet includes an assortment of seeds, insects, and berries. In their breeding season, they gravitate toward grasshoppers, caterpillars, cicadas, and aphids to eat, in addition to arachnids like spiders and weevils.

To attract Indigo Buntings to your backyard, consider providing food sources like white proso millet and incorporating sheltered spaces with bushes, hedges, and berry-producing shrubs.

By offering a mix of their favorite foods and suitable homes, you can enjoy having these remarkable songbirds around and learn more about their fascinating lives.

Read Next: How to Attract Indigo Buntings

What Do Indigo Buntings Eat?

female indigo bunting bird eating grass seeds
Female/immature male Indigo Bunting feeding on grass seed.

Primary Foods

As a seed-eating bird, their diet mainly consists of seeds and grains. Some of the seeds they prefer are small seeds of grasses, thistle, and nyjer.

Additionally, indigo buntings appreciate mealworms and insects in their diet.

They primarily feast on caterpillars, grasshoppers, beetles, aphids, and weevils, which provide protein needed during their breeding seasons.

The indigo bunting’s diet doesn’t stop at seeds and insects; they have a penchant for berries and fruits as well.

Some of their favorite berries include blackberries, elderberries, blueberries, strawberries, and serviceberries. These fruits not only provide essential nutrients to the bird but also serve as a delicious treat.

Keep in mind, their day-to-day dietary habits change according to the season, ensuring they have access to the nutrients they need to thrive throughout the year.

During summer, when it’s breeding season, indigo buntings consume more insects to maintain high protein levels. As winter rolls in and they migrate south, their diet shifts to consist primarily of seeds, buds, and berries.

Foraging Techniques and Behavior

indigo bunting eating seeds
Indigo Bunting eating seeds.

When it comes to foraging, Indigo Buntings are quite resourceful and efficient birds.

They have adapted to searching for food in various environments, such as on the ground, among trees and shrubs, and in fields. As they forage for food, their vibrant plumage makes them an eye-catching sight for birdwatchers.

Indigo Buntings often forage for insects on tree bark, stems, and leaves. They use their sharp beaks to skillfully capture and gobble up grasshoppers, cicadas, caterpillars, and aphids in their habitat.

Fortunately, they love small arachnids like spiders and brown-tail moth caterpillars, whose noxious hairs can be bad for human health1.

These fascinating birds are known not just for their exuberant flight behavior, but also for their keen ability to spot tiny insects that are camouflaged against the backgrounds of vegetation.

They are adept at searching through leaves and bud clusters in trees and shrubby areas.

You may catch them visiting open fields, where they peck at seeds on the ground and seek out fruits from bushes or low-hanging branches.

Sometimes, the Indigo Buntings can be observed foraging in small flocks. This behavior helps them find more food sources and offers protection against potential predators.

Their exceptional foraging techniques and behavior are just a few reasons why these beautiful birds continue to captivate the interest of bird enthusiasts and researchers alike.

What to Feed Indigo Buntings at Bird Feeders?

blue indigo bunting eating seeds at a bird feeder
Indigo Bunting at a seed bird feeder.

Indigo Buntings will happily visit your bird feeders if you serve up some tasty samplings that resemble what they’d naturally eat in the wild.

Try putting the following in your bird feeders:

  • white millet
  • sunflower chips
  • thistle or nyjer seeds

These seeds can be offered in a tube feeder or hopper feeder for Indigo Buntings.

In addition to these favorites, Indigo Buntings may also try live mealworms and suet if you supplement with them.

Keep in mind that it may take some time for Indigo Buntings to discover your feeder and begin visiting regularly.

Beyond food offerings, you may also want to provide a clean water source nearby as all birds need water to survive.

What about berries, you ask?

Technically, Indigo Buntings eat berries on occasion, but you don’t need to put some on a platter for them.

They eat mostly seeds and insects, so your best bet is to focus on these foods for their nutrition and survival.

If you have berry bushes in your yard, Indigo Buntings may naturally be attracted to them, but it’s not recommended to rely on berries as the main food source for them.

Breeding Habits and Seasonal Changes

breeding male indigo bunting singing on a branch
Breeding male Indigo Bunting singing on a branch.

Dietary Changes

During the breeding season, indigo buntings undergo some significant changes in their behavior and eating habits.

As these small, vividly colored birds come to breeding grounds, they begin seeking out leaves, twigs, and buds to eat from oak trees, maple trees, cottonwoods, aspens, and elms1.

Throughout the breeding process, indigo buntings shift their diet to better nourish themselves and their young ones. They start consuming insects and small arachnids, including grasshoppers, cicadas, caterpillars, canker worms, weevils, and click beetles 1.

These protein-rich creatures provide essential nutrients for the growth and development of their offspring.

Breeding and Nesting Behaviors

The indigo bunting’s mating rituals are fascinating. Males establish their territory in spring and defend it using their songs.

Commonly, males will have more than a single mate in their territory for the duration of the breeding season 2.

The male’s songs serve to attract females and warn off potential rivals, making these vocalizations essential to their mating success.

Nests are created by the female buntings, usually in brushy or weedy spots. They look like open cups woven from grass, twigs, and sometimes spider webbing for a stronger nest 3.

This unique design helps provide safety for the eggs, and once hatched, the young ones remain in the nest, being fed mostly insects by their parents.

As the seasons change, so do the habits and diet of indigo buntings. With the arrival of the winter season, they shift to a more plant-based diet of seeds and some insects 2.

Migration and Winter Habits

The Indigo Bunting’s journey takes it from North America to regions like Southern Florida, Cuba, and Northern South America during the winter months.

During their winter stay in warmer regions, they tend to focus more on consuming plant foods. Some favorites include:

  • thistle
  • dogwood
  • strawberry
  • blueberry
  • elderberry
  • dandelion
  • wheat
  • oats
  • corn
  • alfalfa

Choosing these foods helps them adapt to the winter months, providing essential nutrients to fuel their migratory flight back to North America once the cold season ends.

Their migratory instincts guide them in joining groups of other Indigo Buntings, forming flocks for safety and companionship during their long travels.

Sticking together in these flocks provides protection from predators and ups their chances of finding food sources—a critical aspect of their survival.

Indigo Bunting Habitat

indigo bunting at a bird bath
Indigo Bunting on the edge of a bird bath.

Indigo Buntings thrive in various habitats such as woodlands, fields, grasslands, and even areas near streams.

In these habitats, they easily find their favorite plant foods like corn, grasses, weeds, dandelion, alfalfa, and maple, among others.

When it comes to finding the perfect place to call home, Indigo Buntings prefer areas with a mix of grasses, weeds, and trees.

They’re commonly found in habitats like lawns, grasslands, and along the edges of woods.

They can easily navigate through landscapes dotted with cottonwood, oak, aspen, elm, and maple trees. In fact, the presence of such diverse vegetation gives them ample hiding spots, food sources, and nesting opportunities.

Often, you’ll notice these birds perched on the tallest branches and roadside telephone lines in rural areas, particularly during summer months. Or, on roadsides as you pass by open fields edged with woods.

However, urbanization and intensive agriculture have significantly impacted their habitats, forcing them in some cases to find alternative areas to inhabit.

Helping Indigo Bunting Conservation Efforts

If you want to help support Indigo Bunting populations, there’s plenty you can do individually.

Here’s a list to get you started:

  • Provide foods they like to eat: You can start by offering a variety of their preferred foods, such as thistle or nyjer seed, millet, grasses, oats, corn, and alfalfa, in your bird feeders or your backyard. Goldenrod is another vital plant for this bird species, so if it grows near you, let it continue growing. This will help entice these beautiful birds to visit your home and provide them with needed nourishment.
  • Don’t try to catch and cage them: Caging these wild birds is not recommended as Indigo Buntings fare better in their natural habitats. Focus on helping to preserve their environments and meeting their requirements for their survival.
  • Mow less: Another way to help Indigo Buntings is by being mindful of your mowing practices. Letting grass and plants grow a little longer can provide safe nesting sites, cover, and food sources for these birds. Long grasses are a vital habitat element for Indigo Buntings, so adjusting your mowing schedule during their nesting season can make a significant difference in their population.
  • Keep outdoor lighting low: Indigo buntings often navigate using the stars, which means they can be sensitive to light pollution. Reducing excessive outdoor lighting can help the birds maintain their natural navigational abilities and contribute to a healthier population.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the preferred diet of Indigo Buntings?

Indigo Buntings enjoy a varied diet, which includes both plant-based foods and insects. Their plant-based diet typically consists of seeds, grains, and some fruits and berries.

During the winter months, they are more likely to consume plant foods as they migrate to areas like southern Florida and northern South America.

Which insects do Indigo Buntings consume?

Indigo Buntings are known to consume a variety of insects. This helps them fulfill their protein requirements, especially during the nesting season.

Some of the insects they eat include spiders, caterpillars, beetles, and other small, crawling creatures.

What types of seeds do Indigo Buntings prefer?

These birds have a preference for seeds of various plants such as thistle, dandelion, grasses, wheat, oats, corn, and alfalfa.

Their affinity for seeds make them frequent visitors to bird feeders stocked with millet or other small grains.

Do Indigo Buntings feed on fruits and berries?

Yes, Indigo Buntings are known to enjoy fruits and berries, especially during the winter months.

Some of their favorites include strawberries, blackberries, serviceberries, blueberries, and elderberries. These fruits and berries provide them with essential nutrients and energy.

How do Indigo Buntings’ eating habits change during migration?

During migration, their diet may vary depending on the availability of food sources.

Indigo Buntings are opportunistic feeders and will adapt their diet to suit the environment they encounter.

In their wintering grounds, they may focus more on plant-based foods, while during breeding season, their diet may shift towards insects to meet their increased protein needs.

Can you attract Indigo Buntings to your backyard with specific feeders or food?

To attract Indigo Buntings to your backyard, you can provide them with their preferred foods such as white proso millet or other small seeds.

Additionally, you can plant berry-producing shrubs and flowering plants that offer natural food sources like seeds, buds, and berries.

Providing a sheltered environment with bushes, hedges, or small trees can also help make your backyard more appealing to these beautiful birds.

Video Tips on Attracting Indigo Buntings


  1. Birdfact – What Do Indigo Buntings Eat 2 3 4
  2. Chipper Birds – What Do Indigo Bunting Birds Eat 2 3
  3. https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Passerina_cyanea/

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