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Number of species: 79

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Indigo Bunting - Passerina cyanea

Indigo Bunting has an unusually complex molt strategy, with a preauxiliary molt occurring prior to migration in the first cycle, followed by an incomplete preformative molt after fall migration. Older individuals begin their prebasic molts on the summer grounds, but complete it during or after fall migration. There are also partial to incomplete prealternate molts which occur primarily on the winter grounds but may not complete until after spring migration. As a result, there can be considerable variation in the appearance of individuals of the same age and sex.  In general, molt limits on the wings provide the best clues for ageing. Individuals that are FCF or older can generally be sexed by the presence (male) or absence (female) of blue body feathers.

Quick tips

  • Examine the wing for molt limits and feather quality - FCJ (juvenile) birds have uniformly brown feathers, with distinct buffy tips to the greater coverts; FCX (HY) birds typically have somewhat darker and fresher lesser and median coverts (tinged blue on males) and have sometimes replaced the innermost greater coverts; FCF (HY/SY) birds have generally replaced all greater coverts, their innermost secondaries and outermost primaries, and sometimes also one or two outer primary coverts, resulting in multiple contrasts with the retained paler juvenile feathers (more subtle in females); FCA (SY) individuals typically show a similar pattern to FCF but with some contrastingly fresh dark brown (female) or blue-edged (male) inner greater coverts and tertials; DCB (AHY/ASY) individuals have primaries, secondaries, and primary coverts that are largely uniform in darkness and wear, mostly deep brown (females) or blackish with blue edging (males) but with some variation in colour possible among feathers; DCA (ASY) individuals show uniformity in the appearance of primaries and secondaries, though these may appear substantially paler and more worn than the fresh alternate greater coverts.
  • Look at the rectrices - they are uniformly brown, narrow, and tapered on FCJ/FCX (HY) individuals, uniformly more broad and rounded on FCF/FCA (HY/SY) and DCB (AHY/ASY) individuals, and occasionally with contrastingly fresh central rectrices in DCA (ASY) individuals.

Species account prepared by McGill Bird Observatory (2016). Last updated by Marcel Gahbauer (Mar 2022)

The molt categories displayed below may be filtered by month.

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Click on any image below to bring up the side-by-side comparison tool.

Individuals not in molt

FCJ - (HY: May - August)
Grayish-brown above, distinctly streaked below
No images available yet
FCX - (HY: June - October)
Largely brown; rectrices relatively narrow and pointed; median coverts often contrastingly dark brown (F) or bluish (M) compared to dull brown greater coverts and primary coverts
M
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FCF - (HY: October - December; SY January - April)
Largely brown (F) or with some distinctly bluish feathers (M); rectrices relatively broad and rounded; molt limits among the secondaries, primaries, and sometimes primary coverts between brownish juvenile feathers and darker, fresher formative feathers with darkers shafts
F
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FCA - (SY: April - October)
Largely brown (F) or mostly blue with some mottling (M); rectrices relatively broad and rounded; molt limits among the secondaries, primaries, and sometimes primary coverts between brownish juvenile feathers and darker, fresher formative feathers with darkers shafts
M
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F
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DCB - (AHY: August - December; ASY January - April)
Largely brown (F) or with distinct blue tones, especially on the wing (M); rectrices relatively broad and rounded; primaries and secondaries uniform in colour and wear
M
Thumbnail - LG3-NA_1524-Passerina_cyanea_AOU_7_52-4049.jpg Thumbnail - LG3-NA_1524-Passerina_cyanea_AOU_7_52-4054.jpg Thumbnail - LG3-NA_1524-Passerina_cyanea_AOU_7_52-4051.jpg Thumbnail - LG3-NA_1524-Passerina_cyanea_AOU_7_52-4053.jpg Thumbnail - LG3-NA_1524-Passerina_cyanea_AOU_7_52-4050.jpg Thumbnail - LG3-NA_1524-Passerina_cyanea_AOU_7_52-4052.jpg
F
Thumbnail - MR3-2621-08505-Passerina_cyanea_AOU_7_52-1663.jpg Thumbnail - MR3-2621-08505-Passerina_cyanea_AOU_7_52-1665.jpg Thumbnail - MR3-2621-08505-Passerina_cyanea_AOU_7_52-1666.jpg Thumbnail - MR3-2621-08505-Passerina_cyanea_AOU_7_52-1664.jpg
DCA - (ASY: April - October)
Largely brown (F) or blue (M); rectrices relatively broad and rounded but with central feathers occasionally contrastingly fresh; primaries and secondaries uniform in colour and wear
M
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F
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Individuals in active molt

FPJ - (HY: May - August)
Similar to FCJ; some natal down remaining and/or juvenile flight feathers still growing in
No images available yet
FPX - (HY: June - September)
Body feathers being replaced along with lesser and median coverts, and occasionally the innermost greater coverts
No images available yet
FPF - (HY: October - December)
Rectrices, greater coverts, innermost secondaries, outermost primaries, and sometimes up to two outermost primary coverts being replaced
No images available yet
FPA - (SY: January - May)
Some to most greater coverts, and often some to all tertials and/or s6 being replaced
No images available yet
SPB - (SY: August - October)
Flight feathers being replaced, with retained juvenile primaries, secondaries, and/or primary coverts distinctly pale brown and quite worn
M
Thumbnail - IS2-2721-01726-Passerina_cyanea_AOU_7_52-4753.jpg Thumbnail - IS2-2721-01726-Passerina_cyanea_AOU_7_52-4754.jpg Thumbnail - IS2-2721-01726-Passerina_cyanea_AOU_7_52-4755.jpg Thumbnail - IS2-2721-01726-Passerina_cyanea_AOU_7_52-4752.jpg
DPB - (AHY: August - October)
Flight feathers being replaced, with retained primaries, secondaries, and/or primary coverts either distinctly adult (dark shafts, with only moderate wear) or intermediate
No images available yet
DPA - (ASY: January - May)
Many to all greater coverts, often some to all tertials, and occasionally up to four central rectrices being replaced
No images available yet

Applicable unknown plumage/age classes

Molt classes Age Months Key traits
M-FPF / UPU (FPF, SPB, DPB) U October - October Undergoing preformative or prebasic molt, but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FCF / UCU (FCF, SCB, DCB) U/AHY October - April In formative or basic plumage (molt completed), but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FPA / UPA (FPA, DPA) AHY January - May Undergoing prealternate molt, but cycle is not reliably distinguishable
M-FCA / UCA (FCA, DCA) AHY April - October In alternate plumage (molt completed), but cycle is not reliably distinguishable

Number of species: 79

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