Blue Grosbeaks vs Indigo Buntings
Blue Grosbeak male, Wikimedia

Blue Grosbeaks are being reported throughout Iowa this summer, with one observed here in Black Hawk County on Little Road, south of Gilbertville, IA. (See the Sightings page for more details).  This species is more commonly seen in the western United States, so when Iowa birders observe it, it generates some excitement!

Have you seen this bird, but assumed it was another Indigo Bunting? Here are a few tips to identify the grosbeak:

Notice the rusty coloring on the shoulders/wings. Also, note the thick heavy, large (gros) black beak, which is characteristic of the grosbeak species. Grosbeaks are larger birds as well.

These birds like brush, roadsides, and streamside thickets. It breeds in dense low growth in semi-open country, including woodland edgers, brushy fields and hedgerows. 

Like other grosbeaks, the Blue Grosbeak's song is lyrical and warbling.  

Indigo Bunting male, Wikimedia

Indigo Buntings are abundant in Iowa during late spring and summer.  These birds also favor brushy pastures, and bushy wood edges. For nesting, they favor roadsides, old fields growing up to bushes, edges of woodlands and other edge habitats. They can also be found in clearings within deciduous woods,often near streams or on the edges of swamps. 

The vivid blue feathers are spectacular on this species, but note that the beak is black, but is not as thick or large as a Blue Grosbeak. Also there are no rusty patches on the wings and the bunting is a much smaller bird than the grosbeak. The Indigo Bunting's song is a rapid, excited warble, with each note or phrase repeated twice.

So, if you see a flash of blue while out birding, take a closer could perhaps stumble across Blue Grosbeak...which just might be a life bird for you!  

Details provided by the Audubon online field guide.

Have you ever wondered?
Yellow-breasted Chat seen at Hickory Hills, Tama County   Photo courtesy of Kenneth Heiar
Q: What is the largest warbler and why does it's song sound like a Brown Thrasher? The Yellow-breasted Chat is the largest North American warbler. It is a gregarious bird with a brilliant yellow throat and breast. The eyes have white spectacles and the bill is heavy and dark. 

The chat's song is an unusual series of widely spaced croaks, whistles, and short repeated phrases, unlike the typical warbler's song, and resembling the vocalizations of a Brown Thrasher or Northern Mockingbird.  The chat often sings at night and will sometimes do a musical display, hopping and flying with legs dangling. 

Chats are most often seen and herd in the spring and early summer. It is seldom seen or heard during the rest of the year, when both males and females skulk silently in the shadows of dense thickets, gleaning insects and berries for food. Last summer Tom Schilke observed a chat along the Cedar Valley Nature Trail north of the Gilbertville Depot. - Info provided by All About Birds and iBird Pro.

Q: Why do my hummingbirds quit coming to my feeders only to return later in the season in greater numbers?
Answer from DNR: It sounds like nesting season to me. While nesting, female ruby-throated hummingbirds spend time sitting on their eggs and feeding young. Females will not necessarily build a nest near a hummingbird feeder. They do not prefer to nest in a male’s feeding territory and your feeder is probably part of one. Traveling to and from a distant feeder takes too much time away from the eggs. When the chicks hatch, they need protein to grow so the mother spends time catching insects and spiders to feed her young rather than drinking nectar. After the young leave the nest, the female may return to the feeder and bring her young with her. Male hummingbirds may be less common at feeders due to the abundance of flowers blooming during this time. So be patient and wait, the hummingbirds will return!

Q:What do birds use to hold their nest together?
Answer from National Audubon: Spider silk! See this link to learn more or to listen to the short podcast detailing this building tactic. Sometimes you get lucky and see birds being birds...PRAS Board member Kenneth Heiar actually captured a photo of a gnatcatcher gathering spider web at Greenbelt Lake this spring.
Blue-grey Gnatcatcher gathering spider web for the nest.  Photo by Kenneth Heiar

Have you sent in your Bird-A-Thon donations? 

BIRD-A-THON 2017: 214 Species Observed
Solitary Sandpiper-Greenbelt Lake    Photo by Tom Schilke

Here are pictures of a few birds spotted during Bird-A-Thon. What have you seen? Email us at to report your bird sightings made during May 10 - May 16th so we can add them to our species list.
Pileated @ Hartman Photo by T. Schilke

Now that the birding is over, it is time to make a pledge use our print friendly pledge form. 

Remember our Bird-A-Thon campaign is our main fundraiser allowing us to produce our newsletter, The Red Tail, bring in great speakers for our programs and to support great projects and grants throughout our six county service area. 

See the grants we awarded in Spring 2017 on our page titled Making a Difference.

Indigo Bunting    Photo by Tom Schilke

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