Some bird mothers go to great lengths to distract predators away from their nest and/or fledgling chicks. They feign injury, flapping like they are wounded but can’t fly, chirping loudly to attract attention to themselves and away from their chicks. I’ve seen Kildeer do this many times, as they lead me on a merry chase away from their nest. For example…
But I’ve never heard of small songbirds using this strategy, until I saw it in action today when a female Indigo Bunting led me all over the backyard as I tried to find her nest and her chirping chicks.
“Here I am, look at me, I’m helpless with my broken wings.”
Wings fluttering, hopping sort of helplessly through the grass, chirping continuously, and flying weakly from spot to spot, this female Indigo Bunting put on quite a show.
Moving around in the underbrush of the wildflower garden, I discovered two of her chicks, also chirping loudly, but hidden from view until one of them tried to cross a patch of grass.
Bunting chicks may fledge (leave the nest) after only 8 days, and can hardly fly more than 10 feet, so they tend to stay hidden in low, dense vegetation.
Not a very adept flyer yet…
The chick is not even fully feathered yet, has short stubby wing feathers, and no tail. It would be easy prey for a wandering cat…
Meanwhile, its mother is still chirping away at me, from all over the garden.
then here… (see that faint tinge of blue on her shoulder?)
and finally right out in front of me. Older females may be much bluer than this, with streaky blue patches on their shoulders, back, and tail. But their overall drab plumage helps camouflage them while they care for the chicks.
A brightly colored male Indigo Bunting would attract way too much attention if he were feeding chicks in the nest.
- although Indigo Buntings are about the size of a Goldfinch and the female sort of resembles a female Goldfinch (but lacks those distinctive wingbars), they are actually members of the Cardinal family.
- the blue color (especially evident in males) does not come from a blue pigment, but is due to special reflective particles in the feathers that scatter light and reflect blue wavelengths. Read more about blue coloration in animals by clicking here.