Indigo Bunting

Passerina cyanea


Phonetic description of song:

sweet sweet tree tree chicken chicken
sweet sweet chew chew
fire, fire; where? where? here, here; see it? see it?

What do we know about indigo bunting song?


• One complex song of 6-8 fixed notes selected from about 100 elements
(Thompson 1968b, )
• One of 8 possible short notes introduces song (Shiovitz 19750)
• Notes sung in pairs


• Sequence unique to neighborhood (Thompson 1970b,Payne et al. 1988a)

• Countersing infrequently (Payne 1983c)


• Females don’t sing

How and when is song acquired?

• Learn adult song in first spring from territorial neighbor, do not sing father’s song (Payne 1981b )
• Recombines about 100 song elements that are selected rather than learned
(Shiovitz 1975, Baker & Boylan 1995) )
• Time intervals between elements is most important feature in species recognition (Emlen 1972 )

How can we facilitate learning?

• Do not learn complete song from tape recordings (Payne 1981)
• Must be exposed to singing adult
• House outside where it can both hear and see adult singing



Baker, M. C. and J. T. Boylan. (1995). A catalog of song syllables of Indigo and Lazuli Buntings. Condor 97:1028-1040.

Emlen, S. T. 1972. An experimental analysis of the parameters of bird song eliciting species recognition. Behaviour, 41, 130-71.

Payne R. B., Thompson, W. L., Fiala, K. L. & Sweany, L. L. 1981. Local song traditions in indigo buntings: cultural transmission of behavior patterns across generations. Behavior, 77, 199-221.

Payne, R. B. 1981b. Song learning and social interaction in indigo buntings. Anim. Behav., 29,688-97.

Payne, R. B. (1983c). The social context of song mimicry: song-matching dialects in Indigo Buntings (Passerina cyanea). Animal Behaviour 31:788-805.

Payne, R. B., L. L. Payne and S. M. Doehlert. (1988a). Biological and cultural success of song memes in Indigo Buntings. Ecology 69:104-117.

Marler, P. & Nelson, D. 1992. Neuroselection and song learning in birds: species universals in culturally transmitted behavior. Seminars in the Neurosciences, 4, 415-23

Thompson, W. L. (1970b). Song variation in a population of Indigo Buntings. Auk 87:58-71.