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Lazuli Bunting

Passerina amoena ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: CARDINALIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The male Lazuli Bunting lights up dry brushy hillsides, thickets, and gardens throughout the West, flashing the blue of a lapis gemstone mixed with splashes of orange. He belts out his squeaky and jumbling song from atop shrubs to defend his territory. The softly colored female is often nearby teetering on tiny stems in a balancing act to reach seeds and other fare. This stocky finchlike bird is related to cardinals and grosbeaks and often visits bird feeders, especially those filled with white proso millet.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
5.1–5.9 in
13–15 cm
Wingspan
8.7 in
22 cm
Weight
0.5–0.6 oz
13–18 g
Relative Size
Larger than a Lesser Goldfinch, smaller than a Western Bluebird.
Other Names
  • Bruant azuré (French)
  • Gorrión cabeziazul, Gorrión de cabeza azul (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Most species molt their feathers on either the breeding grounds or wintering grounds, but not the Lazuli Bunting. After breeding, they start molting some feathers but then migrate to the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico, where insects are abundant following monsoon rains. They finish replacing their feathers in these “molting hotspots” before they head farther south for the winter.
  • Just like we each have our own voice, each male Lazuli Bunting sings a unique combination of notes. Yearling males generally arrive on the breeding grounds without a song of their own. Shortly after arriving, they create their own song by rearranging syllables and combining song fragments of several males. The song they put together is theirs for life.
  • We recognize people by their voice and Lazuli Buntings may do the same thing. When young males copy older, nearby males, they create a kind of “song neighborhood” where songs from a particular area all sound similar. Males from the same neighborhood learn to recognize and tolerate each other. They respond more aggressively to unfamiliar songs that come from outside their neighborhood.
  • The beauty of the Lazuli Bunting did not escape the early naturalist who named it Passerina amoena, meaning beautiful sparrow.
  • The oldest recorded Lazuli Bunting was a male, and at least 9 years, 1 month old when he was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Idaho in 1990. He had been banded in the same state in 1981.

Habitat


Open Woodland

Lazuli Buntings live in brushy hillsides, areas near streams, wooded valleys, thickets and hedges along agricultural fields, and residential gardens from sea level to more than 9,500 feet elevation. They are also common in recently burned areas, but less so in selectively logged forests or clearcuts. On their wintering grounds in western Mexico, they use overgrown fields, thorn forests, second-growth pine-oak forests, agricultural areas, and hedgerows.

Food


Insects

Lazuli Buntings pick caterpillars, spiders, grasshoppers, ants, beetles, butterflies, and other insects from leaves and grasses in the understory. They also eat berries and seeds from serviceberry, chokecherry, wild oats, chickweed, and other grasses. They frequent bird feeders, especially those filled with white proso millet.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
3–4 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
0.7–0.8 in
1.7–2.1 cm
Egg Width
0.5–0.6 in
1.3–1.5 cm
Incubation Period
11–14 days
Nestling Period
9–11 days
Egg Description
Pale blue to faint greenish-blue or white.
Condition at Hatching
Naked with sparse gray down scattered along spine and head. Eyes closed.
Nest Description

The female collects grasses, strips of bark, and leaves which she weaves together with spiderweb or silk from tent caterpillars to form a cup-shaped nest. It takes the female about 5–7 days to complete the nest. The nest is about 3.5 inches in diameter with a smaller inner cup about 2 inches across.

Nest Placement

Shrub

The female chooses where to place the nest. She builds the nest in a shrub such as willow, wild rose, ninebark, snowberry, blackberry, or Oregon grape, typically within 3 feet of the ground and often near the edge of the shrub.

Behavior


Foliage Gleaner

Lazuli Buntings spend much of their time low in the understory, hopping on the ground, perching on shrubs, or making short flights between shrubs with rapid wingbeats. Males arrive on breeding grounds a few days before females and perch conspicuously on taller shrubs at territory boundaries to advertise their presence. When a female arrives in a male’s territory he follows and sings near her until they form a pair bond. Pairs are mostly monogamous during the breeding season, but some individuals seek out additional mates, a phenomenon known as extra-pair copulation. Once paired within their territory, males can be quite aggressive and often attack or chase intruding males. While chasing intruders, males make fast and erratic flights through the understory and often fly upward while singing. Males and females also raise their crown feathers, flick their tails, and chip to threaten intruders. Just before migrating south for the winter, individuals form small flocks and start to molt some of their feathers. They stop on their way south in southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, and northern Sonora, Mexico, to complete their molt. They stay at these “molting hotspots” for 1–2 months before continuing farther south for the winter.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Lazuli Buntings are common throughout the West and their numbers were fairly stable between 1966 and 2015, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 5.6 million birds, with 86% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 97% in Mexico, and 14% breeding in Canada. The species rates a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, and is not on the 2016 State of North America's Birds' Watch List. As a cup-nesting species, Lazuli Buntings are vulnerable to Brown-headed Cowbirds, which lay their eggs in the nests of other species and rely on the unsuspecting parents (the hosts) to raise cowbird young at the expense of their own.

Credits

Range Map Help

Lazuli Bunting Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Short-distance migrant. Lazuli Buntings migrate at night to southeastern Arizona and Mexico.

Backyard Tips

Lazuli Buntings frequent bird feeders, especially ones that offer white proso millet, sunflower seeds, or nyjer thistle seeds. Visit Project FeederWatch to learn more about what type of feeder and seed to use.

Create bird friendly habitat in your yard by planting native shrubs to provide foraging and even nesting opportunities for the Lazuli Bunting. Learn more about birdscaping at Habitat Network.

Find This Bird

During the breeding season, a walk along a trail or road through brushy hillsides and chaparral might lead you to a Lazuli Bunting. Once you are in the right habitat, listen for their fast jumbling song and look high in tall shrubs for a singing male. Males tend to be quite vocal and defensive of their territories especially early in the breeding season. So to catch a singing male, be sure to go looking in April in the southern part of their range or in May in the northern part of their range. They'll be easier to hear in April through June, but these common birds are still fairly visible for the rest of the summer months. During the nonbreeding season scan weedy fields and look for small finchlike birds weighing down grass and weed stems while they eat seeds.

Get Involved

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count and tell us how many species you see in your yard. Find out more at Great Backyard Bird Count.

Count the number of birds you see at your feeders and provide scientists with valuable data by joining Project FeederWatch.

You Might Also Like

Watch how Lazuli Bunting distribution changes throughout the year with this eBird Animated Occurrence Map.

Learn more about how and why birds molt their feathers in The Basics: Feather Molt, All About Birds, April 20, 2008.

Flyways for Flyweights: Small Birds Capitalize on Weather Patterns During Epic Migrations, All About Birds, May 15, 2014.

Read more about the Lazuli Bunting’s unusual postbreeding movements: These 8 Unexpected Migration Routes Give You Reason to Go Birding in Summer, All About Birds, July 16, 2014.

Read more about how Lazuli Buntings and other species migrate along a "Green wave" of resources in Migrants Ride A Green Wave North, Living Bird, Spring 2015.

Look out! The Backyard Bird Alarm Call Network, Living Bird, Winter 2016.

In Colombia, Shade-Grown Coffee Sustains Songbirds And People Alike, Living Bird, Autumn 2016.

People Power And Sustainable Forestry Keep Deforestation At Bay In Guatemala, Living Bird, Autumn 2016.

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