This post was written by ScIU Undergraduate Intern Rose Schnabel.
Step outside in Southern Indiana and you’ll be greeted by a symphony of chirps, calls, and songs from a myriad of local birds. Home to over 400 species, Indiana is a birder’s paradise. Warblers, eagles, and owls alike call Bloomington home and are frequently spotted on the campus of IU Bloomington. Birds are a vibrant part of Bloomington culture, so it’s worth getting to know a few:
- Blue-Winged Warbler — Commonly found in the shrubs of Hoosier National Forest, this species is named for its light blue-grey wings. But, you’d recognize it more so by its bright yellow body or “buzzy song.” The blue-winged warbler is commonly found on the East Coast, but has recently begun expanding its range to the North, commonly interbreeding with the golden-winged warbler native to that region. To spot these birds, aim your eye at dense brush on the forest floor. Blue-winged warblers consume a diet of small insects and spiders, so they can be found where bugs abound.
- Bald Eagle — With a wingspan taller than most humans and speeds that would earn them a ticket on I-69, bald eagles are a stunning sight. Their history in Indiana is a success story of reintroduction. Before the 1890s, bald eagles were a common sight in Indiana. However, as the use of organic chemicals and pesticides grew, bald eagle numbers dropped; by 1897, Indiana was home to only one known bald eagle nest. The Indiana Nongame & Endangered Wildlife Program launched a reintroduction program in 1985, bringing chicks from Wisconsin and Alaska to Bloomington’s own Lake Monroe. Under the watchful eye of Bloomingtonians, eagle numbers quickly grew. As of 2020, Indiana had over 350 bald eagle nests throughout the state. Head to the Northern edge of Lake Monroe during their annual bald eagle festivities for the best chance of spotting one.
- Dark-Eyed Junco — This sparrow is ubiquitous throughout North America. That’s not to say that juncos are anything short of fascinating. At IU, Distinguished Professor Ellen Ketterson has studied dark-eyed juncos for more than 40 years. With their collaborators, the Ketterson lab has undertaken studies of mating, migration, and more. Commonly referred to as snowbirds, dark-eyed juncos come to the Eastern United States during winter and can be spotted by their flashy tail feathers in flight. In the spring, they return to the North to coniferous and hardwood forests. You can find these white-tailed beauties on campus, in parks, or even in your own backyard.
Eastern Screech Owl — You’d have to stay up late to catch a glimpse of this backyard bird. Screech owls are typically active at night and asleep during the day. True to their name, these owls make a distinctive trilling noise. The noise serves to attract a mate, find family, and display aggression. Eastern screech owls have a variety of coat colors: grey, red, and brown. This kind of variation is known as polymorphism, as groups of owls in different forest zones display the coat color that most camouflages them in their environment.
- Northern Cardinal — A list of Hoosier birds would be incomplete without the state’s pride and joy: the cardinal. But, Indiana isn’t the only state to claim the bird as its own. The cardinal is the state bird of seven states, mostly in the Midwest and East. Male cardinals are aggressive: they attack other males to defend their nesting territory, but will even attack their own reflection if they spot it in a window or mirror. The best part about these birds is that they call Indiana home all year round instead of migrating to warmer climates during the winter.
No matter what time of year, you’re guaranteed to see plenty of birds in the Bloomington skies. Observe from your own backyard or join a local birding group to catch a sight of these five birds and many more!
Edited by Joe Vuletich and Dan Myers