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Identifying Blue Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting

Blue Grosbeak, adult male May in Kern County, California. Photo by Brian Small

From coast to coast across the United States, Blue Grosbeaks are regular summer residents in dense streamside thickets. Most common in the south, they have spread northward in recent decades. They now breed regularly north to New Jersey, Ohio, and North Dakota, and migrants stray as far north as Canada in both spring and fall, so birders everywhere have reason to think about identifying them.

For many years, this grosbeak was classified in a genus by itself. It’s now placed among the Passerina buntings, along with Indigo, Lazuli, Painted, and Varied Buntings. Although the Blue Grosbeak is distinctive after enough practice, it’s easy to confuse this species with Indigo Bunting, so this column will focus on comparing those two species.

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Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman is an expert birder and naturalist, a talented artist and photographer, a world traveler, and the author of many books about birds and other wildlife. His column “ID Tips” appears in every issue of BirdWatching. Kenn is also a field editor for Audubon Magazine and a contributor to Birds and Blooms. His work first appeared in Birder’s World (now BirdWatching) in April 1988. Visit his website, Kaufman Field Guides.

Kenn Kaufman on social media

Brian E. Small

Brian E. Small

Brian Small is a Los Angeles-based bird and nature photographer whose photos appear in the “ID Tips” column in every issue of BirdWatching. His work has been published in Time, The New York Times, Audubon, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation, and many other publications. His photos also illustrate many field guides, including Kenn Kaufman’s Birds of North America, a series of state bird identification guides published with the American Birding Association, and his own Eastern and Western photographic field guides to the birds of North America published in 2009 with author Paul Sterry and Princeton University Press.

Brian E. Small on social media