Indigo Bunting vs Blue Finch – What is the Difference?

Similar at first glance, the Indigo Bunting and the Blue Finch are distinct birds with features that indeed coincide.

Although the plumage color, size, and body shape appear the same, looking at several other features, you will be able to tell you how these birds are different.

Below, I will discuss these differences, and examine whether these two birds are related, and where you can spot them.

Is Indigo Bunting and Blue Finch the Same?

No, the Indigo Bunting and Blue Finch aren’t the same birds. But don’t worry, you’re not the only one to mix them up.

Even bird specialists have long classified the Blue Finch in the bunting family, Emberizidae. Then it was classified as part of the Cardinal family.

However, according to the newest classification, which was based on molecular studies, the Blue Finch is actually considered to be part of the tanagers family, the Thraupidae.

Therefore, the indigo bunting and the blue finch may share similarities, but they’re not the same bird, nor are they related.

Below, I’ll cover the most notable differences between the two.

Differences Between Indigo Bunting and Blue Finch

Although it’s the physical appearance of the two birds that cause the most confusion, a closer look at their particular traits will reveal how they’re actually not that very similar.

Once you know the key differences, you’ll be able to tell them apart. However, as I will reveal later in this article, it’s actually not the physical differences that are the most relevant in telling them apart.

Here’s how the Indigo Bunting is different from the Blue Finch:

– Appearance

About the size of a sparrow, the Indigo Bunting is a stocky little blue bird whose plumage is a deeper blue on its head and a lighter shade of blue on the rest of the body. The edge of the wings is black.

The blue is apparent only in the male of the species. Females are brown overall with brown streaks on the breast and belly. Sometimes females will have faint touches of blue on the tail, wings or rump, however, patches of blue are more common in immature male Indigo Buntings.

Male Blue Finches are similar in size to Indigo buntings and their plumage is bright, cobalt blue with the same tone of blue on all parts of the body.

Faint black streaks are also dispersed throughout the body. Underpants and the tips of the wings are silvery gray.

Female Blue Finches are rufous-brown above and buffy white with dusky streaks below.

These differences in the color of the plumage are of course not immediately apparent. In truth these are not such notable differences.

When in doubt another physical feature you can look at to try to distinguish these birds from one another is the color of the legs.

The Blue finch has dull reddish legs, while the Indigo Bunting has slender black legs.

– Beak Shape

A further notable difference between the Indigo Bunting and the Blue Finch is the shape and color of the beak.

The Blue Finch has a bright yellow bill that’s slightly longer than that of the Indigo Bunting, whose beak is short and thick. Also, the beak of the indigo bunting is dark gray.

So far, there are two distinctive traits, which are not the plumage, that can help you tell these two birds apart – the color of the legs and the color and shape of the beak.

– Songs and Calls

Even the songs and calls of these birds are different. The calls of the Indigo Bunting are short, high-pitched, each call lasting only about 2 seconds.

They’re prolific singers, singing as many as 200 songs per hour. They sing perched up on trees, shrubs or telephone lines. They sing throughout the day.

Blue Finches have a whistle-like call that’s repetitive and has a descending tone. Their song can usually be heard in the morning and afternoon.

– Nesting Habits

Indigo buntings build their nests at the edge of forests or in fields, at about 3 feet above the ground. Low vegetation like shrubs is chosen as a nesting site and the nest is built in a fork where branches meet.

Only the female builds the nest and the whole process may last anywhere from 2 to 8 days. The shape of the nest is that of an open cup. The materials used to build the nest include leaves, stems, grasses, and bark, wrapped with spider webs.

The female Indigo bunting lays 3-4 eggs per clutch. The eggs are white with a couple of brownish spots. The incubation period lasts 11-14 days. The number of broods Indigo buntings raise per season are up to 3.

The nest of the Blue Finch is also built out of twigs, leaves, grasses and other natural vegetation. Finches will build their nests in different types of vegetation of the Brazilian Cerrado (savannah). The female lays 4-6 eggs per clutch and incubation lasts 12-16 days.

– Diet

The diet of the Indigo Bunting and the Blue Finch is also similar – both feed on seeds, insects, and various plant matter.

Staples of the Indigo Bunting’s diet include seed forage such as thistles, dandelions, berries such as blueberries, blackberries, elderberries, insects such as caterpillars, aphids, cicadas, and more.

The Blue Finch are usually seed foraging on the ground for insects, seeds of various weeds, and other plant matter.

When raised in captivity, Blue Finches will eat any seed mixes formulated for finches. They also enjoy millet, sprouted seeds, mealworms, and fruit flies. They’re often fed grit with charcoal as well to aid their digestion.

– Habitat

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to differentiate between the blue finch and the indigo bunting is to learn about their geographical distribution and habitat.

Because their ranges don’t overlap, it’s easy to identify which bird you’re looking at based on where you are located.

The range of Indigo buntings extends from eastern North America to northern South America. They’re considered long-distance migrant birds. Their breeding grounds extend only to southern Florida. In winter, they travel south to northern South America.

Indigo buntings inhabit brushy and weedy areas, such as those found at the edge of woods and fields, and wherever shrubby growths can be found.

During migration and in their wintering grounds, they can be seen foraging the ground for various seeds in fields, grasslands, and rice fields.

Unlike the Indigo Bunting, which is a migratory bird distributed mostly in North America and only the northern regions of South America, Blue Finches are found only in Brazil and Bolivia.

Blue finches are birds of grassy savannas and the Cerrado tropical savanna ecoregion of Brazil. Cerrado is Brazil’s second largest habitat type, after the Amazonian rainforest, and accounts for 21% of the country’s land areas.

The Cerrado is characterized by high levels of endemism and a rich biodiversity.

Unfortunately, the conversion of the Cerrado habitat for agriculture caused a sharp decline in the Blue Finch population. As a result, the Blue Finch is listed as Near Threatened.

With around 5,000 individuals in existence, it is now believed that Bolivia has a higher population of Blue Finches than Brazil.


Hopefully, by now, I have convinced you that despite the similarities, the blue finch and the indigo bunting are not only not related, but they’re also completely distinct birds that only happen to resemble each other.

If you’re spotting a blue bird that you might think it’s a Blue finch, stop and think if that’s actually the case depending on where you’re located.

Because Blue finches are endemic to Bolivia and Brazil, if you’re spotting the blue bird in North America, for example, you’re most definitely looking at an Indigo Bunting.

As such, further examinations of the color of the beak (yellow for Blue Finches, gray for Indigo Buntings), the color of the legs, or the type of sound and calls they make, in all likelihood, won’t be necessary.

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