About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

How Do You Tell a Female Indigo Bunting from a Female Cowbird?

I think I had a female Indigo Bunting in my yard but it might be a cowbird. How can I tell? Patrick ~ East Lansing, MI

Little brown birds can sometimes be hard to identify when you just get a quick glance.

Both Indigo Buntings and Brown-headed Cowbirds live in similar habitats. The cowbird parasitizes or lays its eggs in indigos’ nests as well as other “host” species.

Both eat similar food and can be spotted at bird feeders.

Size is a good indicator. The Indigo Bunting’s shape and size (5 inches) is closer to a goldfinch, and the Brown-headed cowbirds’ (7 inches) is a little larger than a House Sparrow.

Color can sometimes help. Both females are a dull brown but the indigo is usually lighter. And if you look close you’ll see the indigo also has a two tone bill. The top is black and the bottom is a grey or tan. The cowbird has a black bill top and bottom.

Finally notice what birds are hanging around the bird you are trying to identify. Do you see a more distinguishable mate nearby? Cowbirds can also flock with blackbirds and starlings whereas indigos feed alone during the breeding season and with other indigos in the fall and winter.

1 comment:

Joy K. said...

Thank you for this. I had no idea the two birds looked so much alike.