June 8, 2012
170 and Counting... Late last week, Kimball Garrett, NHMLA's Ornithology Collections Manager, spotted a new species for our Exposition Park bird list...drum roll please! It was an Indigo Bunting, Passerina cyanea. Although Kimball had his camera with him, he was unfortunatley unable to snap a picture. Here is an image of a male Indigo Bunting, so you can at least get a sense of what they look like.
Wow, those are some seriously blue feathers! You can also check out what they sound like from the Fish and Wildlife Service. If your browser does not support HTML5 audio, you should upgrade. In the meantime, you could listen to it here instead. Here's what Kimball has to say about these birds: The Indigo Bunting is a migratory songbird that breeds commonly in the Central and Eastern United States and adjacent Canada, and in small numbers west to Arizona. A few have summered and bred in Southern California, but the handful of Indigos that turn up annually in Los Angeles County are presumed to be off-course migrants. A male seen in the xeric garden south of the California Science Center on June 1, 2012 was the first to be found in Exposition Park; the Indigo’s close relative, the Lazuli Bunting (P. amoena), is occasionally noted as a migrant in the park, mainly in August and September (as can be seen from the seasonal bar charts based on data from the eBird website). A third member of the genus Passerina, the Blue Grosbeak (P. caerulea) has been recorded only once, in May.
Seasonal bar charts from eBird In addition to the brilliant blue plumage of the male, Indigo Buntings gained fame as the subject of pioneering studies of celestial navigation by night-migrating songbirds by Stephen Emlen in the late 1960s . Emlen placed caged buntings in a planetarium setting to study the directionality of their migratory responses when exposed to both accurate and manipulated celestial cues. Although we now know that star patterns are important in the navigation of such migrants, the occasional appearance of an individual well away from its normal geographical range shows that such navigation is not without errors! Thanks Kimball, that was fascinating!