|Common Name||Lazuli bunting|
|Scientific Name||Passerina amoena|
|Lifespan||5 – 7 Years|
|Size||5.1 – 5.9 inches|
|Mass||0.5 – 0.6 oz.|
|Habitat||Open woodland, shrubland|
Information & Physical Appearance
The Lazuli Bunting is scientifically referred to as Passerina amoena. This bird species is part of the order Passeriformes, the family Cardinalidae.
Other species in the family Cardinalidae include the hepatic tanager, the scarlet tanager, the summer tanager, the western tanager, the northern cardinal, the rose-breasted grosbeak, the pyrrhuloxia, the blue grosbeak, the black-headed grosbeak, the painted bunting, the indigo bunting, the varied bunting, and the dickcissel.
The Lazuli bunting is a small-sized, finch-like songbird. It has a stocky body. The relative size of this bird species is smaller than that of the Western bluebird, yet larger than the Lesser Goldfinch. Lazuli buntings’ wingspan is estimated at 8.7 inches.
The bill is shaped like a cone. The forehead is described as gently sloping. The tail is slightly forked (notched).
As a rule of thumb, adult male and adult female Lazuli buntings are distinctly different.
Adult breeding male Lazuli buntings have a white belly and a pumpkin-colored breast. The most distinguishable characteristics of breeding males are the brilliant turquoise blue coloration above, in particular, the head, the upperparts, and the throat.
Sometimes, before the worn away, brown edges fade, and especially in early spring or in winter, the back of adult males may show a brown wash.
The mask-like effect on the face is due to the black colored lores.
“Equipped” with two broad, white-colored wing bars, the wings are dark and are further characterized by blue edging. The black-colored tail also displays thin blue edging.
When flying, as well as when perching, adult breeding males exhibit their white shoulder patches that beautifully stand out.
Adult female Lazuli buntings are colored in warm hues of grayish-brown above. They have two buffy wingbars. On the tail and on the wings, a blue tinge is easy to notice.
In females, the breast coloration is unstreaked tan or pale cinnamon. On the head, females have a rich tan or gray-brown coloration. The underparts are buff or white. Blue edging is noticeable on the gray-colored tail and wings.
The rump and the upper tail coverts are blue-gray. The overall amount of blue is variable in females, yet sometimes, vivid blue coloration may also show on their shoulders.
The females’ wing bars are not as broad as those of males, and their two wing bars do show brownish or buff coloration.
Juvenile lazuli buntings resemble the physical appearance of nonbreeding males, as both display pumpkin coloration on the breast, while the head and the back are mottled tan or blue in color.
It is often the case that Lazuli buntings tend to be mistaken for bluebirds at the very first glance. However, lazuli buntings and bluebirds are actually quite different.
In order to distinguish lazuli buntings, birders can become more confident by recognizing distinguishing features, as well as key field marks, such as this bird species’ dark gray-black, thick, conically-shaped bill that is slightly lighter on the underside. Also, it is good to note that these birds have a relatively long tail, based on their overall body size.
The life expectancy of the Lazuli bunting is 5 – 7 years of age.
Distribution & Habitat
The Lazuli bunting is known to favor relatively open habitats characterized by a sufficient amount of shrubby covers, such as riparian areas, post-wildlife zones, open woodlands, as well as scrubby canyons.
In the summer, these vividly colored songbirds can be found across different parts of North America, ranging from northwestern New Mexico through south to northern Arizona, the western parts of South and North Dakota, and in the western and central regions of coastal California.
In the winter, the Lazuli buntings’ range is much more limited in scope as compared with their summer range and is mostly confined to central and western Mexico.
When it comes to breeding, Lazuli Buntings prefer brushy hillsides. Also, they are known to favor breeding areas located near streams, as well as the hedges and thickets situated along agricultural fields, and wooded valleys. Recently burned areas are also favorable for breeding, and so are residential gardens.
The different possible breeding areas of this bird species share something important in common – they are located at up to about 9 500 feet elevation.
Food & Diet
It is in the understory where Lazuli Buntings pick their food, preferring to stay low while engaged in foraging. A sufficient part of these birds’ diet consists of spiders, grasshoppers, beetles, spiders, ants, and butterflies, among other insects that can be found among the grasses and leaves.
Apart from living prey, Lazuli buntings will eat an array of different grains and seeds, as they are granivorous creatures. They gladly consume seeds from various grasses, such as chokecherry, wild oats, serviceberry, and chickweed, and they do eat berries, too.
Lazuli buntings are not uncommon visitors to bird feeders within their natural range, and especially when it comes to bird feeders filled with white proso millet.
Insects are consumed in higher amounts during the breeding season as a much-needed source of extra protein, while fruits make up for the majority of the diet in the late summer season, and in the autumn season.
It is by using their powerful bills how they manage to successfully crack open seed hulls. Lazuli buntings will finally get to spit the hulls out. After spitting the hulls out, these birds will often smartly wipe any remnants off their bills on perches or branches.
Lazuli buntings spend the majority of their time hopping between branches while foraging. For most of their active time, these birds remain on the ground in the understory, searching for seeds or insects to feast on.
The male Lazuli bunting can be spotted on exposed perches located in low shrubs or small trees alike, perching upright while singing.
These birds are known for their rapid wingbeats, occurring as the birds are to make short flights between shrubs and trees.
When it comes to breeding, the males are to arrive a few days earlier than the females on breeding grounds. Once they arrive, the males are to perch conspicuously in order to advertise their presence. Furthermore, they choose to perch on taller shrubs, located at territory boundaries.
As soon as a female Lazuli bunting is to arrive in the male’s territory, the male begins to follow her. Also, the male is to not only follow the female closely but will also sing near her up until the point when the mating pair is to be successfully bond.
During the breeding season, they formed pairs of lazuli buntings are mostly monogamous. However, although occasionally, some individuals may seek out more mates. This interesting behavior is known as “extra-pair copulation.”
The males in the breeding pair become very territorial once they pair with a female mate, and they can be rather aggressive towards other males. The intruding males within the pairs’ territory are often attacked or simply chased away.
Chasing the intruders away is not deprived of curious behavior exhibited by the males as they make erratic, fast flights through the understory. Also, it is often the case that the males defending their breeding territory will fly upward, all while simultaneously singing.
To threaten intruders, it is not only the males but the females alike to perform certain moves, such as flicking their tails, chipping, and/or raising their crown feathers.
Ultimately, lazuli buntings become much more solitary during the breeding season and can be either observed alone or in pairs.
Outside the breeding season, though, these birds can be gregarious. They are willing and readily forming flocks with similar bird species, such as finches and sparrows, as well as other species of buntings.
The Lazuli buntings’ flight is characterized by an undulating pattern. Furthermore, their undulating flight pattern is interspersed with short glides. During these short glides, the wings are held very close to the body.
Molting begins right before the birds are to migrate south for the winter season. Apart from starting to molt some of their feathers, lazuli buntings will form small flocks soon before they finally migrate.
To complete their molt, these feathery creatures stop on their migration way south in northern Sonora, southern New Mexico, and in southern Arizona. These are referred to as “molting hotspots.”
The birds are to stay in their molt-friendly hotspots for 30 and up to 60 days. Afterwards, they will continue their journey flying farther south to spend the winter.
Interestingly, this bird species is known as an early migrant. Traveling flocks may start forming as soon as in early July before the birds are to finally head south.
Moreover, the Lazuli bunting is a vagrant bird. Vagrant birds are known to sometimes stray far outside from their expected range.
Vagrant sighting of lazuli buntings most commonly occur during autumn migration, when these birds are regularly reported spotted much further east of their normal, expected range. Also, there are existing reports of migrating lazuli buntings spotted much further north than their expected range.
It is the female lazuli bunting’s duty to choose a suitable nesting place. Also, it is the female to be in charge of building the nest. These birds pick various shrubs for nestings, such as wild rose, snowberry, willow, blackberry, ninebark, and Oregon grape.
The nests are most commonly positioned within up to 3 feet off the ground’s surface. Also, it is often the case that the nest is positioned near the very edge of the selected shrub.
To build the nest, the female lazuli bunting is to collect suitable nesting materials, namely leaves, strips of bark, and grasses. Once the nesting materials are collected, the female is to weave these together using either silk obtained from tent caterpillars or spiderweb.
Finally, a cup-shaped nest is constructed, taking the female about 5 – 7 days to be fully accomplished.
The nest is characterized by an outer and an inner cup. It is approximately 3.5 inches in diameter, while the inner cup measures about 2 inches across.
Lazuli buntings may produce one or two broods per year, with one single clutch consisting of between 3 and 4 eggs. The egg’s coloration varies from faint blue to white or pale greenish-blue, measuring 0.5 – 0.6 inches in width and between 0.7 – 0.8 inches in length.
The nestling period lasts for 9 and up to 11 days. Upon hatching, the young chicks are helpless, naked, with only a sparse gray down that are scattered along with the head and the spine. Their eyes are closed.
Health Risks, Survival Threats & Conservation
Up-to-date information regarding the most common diseases and body parasites that may affect Lazuli buntings is still lacking, and more research is needed.
According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, the numbers of Lazuli Buntings throughout the West have been estimated as “fairly stable” within the period between 1966 and 2015.
Furthermore, according to data gathered and shared by Partners in Flight, the global breeding population of Lazuli buntings is about 5.6 million birds.
86% of the breeding Lazuli buntings have been estimated to spend some part of the year in the U.S. Meanwhile, 14% are to breed in Canada, and 97% are found to breed in Mexico.
On the Continental Concern Score, the lazuli bunting rates a 9 score on a 20 score basis. Fortunately, the Lazuli bunting is not on the 2016 State of North America’s Birds Watch List.
However, Lazuli buntings are especially vulnerable to brown-headed cowbirds, because of the buntings’ nests being shaped like an open cup.
Brown-headed cowbirds are known to lay their eggs in the nest of other bird species, such as the lazuli bunting, and then rely on the hosts to raise their cowbird young. And so, the unsuspecting lazuli bunting parents are indeed to often raise the cowbird’s offspring at the expense of their own offspring.
According to the data provided by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, the Lazuli buntings’ population is actually increasing. The birds appear in at least one protected area and are subject to a systematic monitoring scheme. Conservation sites are identified over the entire range.
Availability – Where to Get a Lazuli Bunting
Lazuli buntings are not traditionally kept as pets. Even though one cannot get a Lazuli bunting in the same sense how one can acquire a parrot, canary, or other cage bird, it is possible to enjoy these beautiful bird species within their natural range.
During these birds’ breeding season, something as simple as a weekend walk along a road or a trail extending through chaparral and brushy hillsides might offer you the lucky chance of coming across a Lazuli bunting.
Also, as soon as a bird watch enthusiast is to be in the right habitat for sighting a Lazuli bunting, he/she wants to listen for these feathery fellows’ fast jumbling songs. In addition to listening for their song, one wants to turn his/her attention towards the high portion of tall shrubs where males can be most commonly spotted singing.
Mind that it is early during the breeding season when male lazuli buntings tend to become especially vocal, as well as quite defensive of their breeding territory. Thus, in order to catch a glimpse of singing males in the southern part of their range, look for the birds in April. In the northern part of their range, look for the birds in May.
Even though it is easier to hear the songs of the breeding males in April through June, it is fully possible to catch a glimpse of these incredible birds for the rest of the summer months, as they remain fairly visible, yet less audible, during this period.
When it comes to catching a glimpse of lazuli buntings during the non-breeding season, enthusiasts want to scan weedy fields, while looking for these birds resembling small finches engaged in eating seeds by weighing down weed stems and grass stems alike.
As a rule of thumb, it is not at all difficult to find Lazuli buntings within their natural range, as they are fairly common. However, note that it becomes more challenging to find them in the spring and summer when they become more solitary, and hence, sightings also tend to become somewhat less common.
One of the easiest ways to find Lazuli buntings is to watch for these birds later in the season, at the point when they are to begin preparing for migration by forming flocks with other birds.
Last but not least, it is possible to enjoy a closer view of lazuli buntings at bird feeding stations filled with their favorite food, where these creatures are regarded as highly desired, and nonetheless, common visitors.
1. Lazuli buntings may recognize other birds in a similar sense as humans are capable of recognizing other people by their voice. These birds are known to form a type of a “song neighborhood” when young lazuli bunting males are to copy the songs of mature and immature males alike located nearby. In these “song neighborhood,” all the songs from a particular sound quite similar.
Ultimately, males sharing the same “song neighborhood” are to learn to recognize the songs of other males residing nearby, and they get to tolerate each other fairly well.
However, if an unfamiliar song is to come outside of the “song neighborhood,” males are known to respond much more aggressively.
2. Each Lazuli bunting male has a unique combination of notes, similarly to the way each person has his/her very own, unique voice. In general, yearling lazuli bunting males are known to arrive on the breeding grounds without having their very own, one-of-a-kind song.
However, shortly after arriving on the breeding grounds, the yearlings are to create their own song. They do so by rearranging syllables of several males, as well as combining song fragments.
Once the male Lazuli bunting is to succeed in putting together a song of his own, this song remains for a lifetime.
3. Unlike most bird species that are known to molt their feathers on wintering grounds or on breeding grounds, the Lazuli bunting is known to molt its feathers on “molting hotspots.”
Lazuli buntings will start molting some of their feathers shortly after breeding. Then, they will migrate to northwestern Mexico and the southwestern U.S., in order to feast on the abundance of insects occurring after the monsoon rains.
It is in these “molting hotspots” where Lazuli buntings complete the replacement of their feathers. Once the molting is brought to an end, the birds will head farther south to spend the winter.
4. The early naturalist who got to name the Lazuli bunting with the scientific name “Passerina amoena” did not miss out to imply the extraordinary beauty of this species, as the scientific name means “beautiful sparrow.”
5. The Lazuli bunting is named for the gemstone lapis lazuli, a metaphoric rock exhibiting nuances of deep blue, and prized for its intense color ever since ancient times.
6. The oldest recorded Lazuli bunting was a male individual recaptured and then rereleased during banding operations that took place back in 1990 in Idaho, USA. The specimen was first banded in the state of Idaho in 1981 and was at least 9 years and 1 month of age when recaptured.
7. The early migration of the Lazuli bunting is often used as a pinpoint indicating the welcome arrival of the spring season. Also, this sweet warbling, beautifully colored songbird is a highly anticipated summer visitor in the western parts of North America.
8. The Lazuli buntings’ songs are described as sweet warbling. They consist of 10 and up to 15 syllables, with the song’s pitch and pace changing throughout the performance, making up for an undulating cadence.
Usually, the call is a short, sharp, single “wheet” note. Sometimes, the call can be repeated following slow intervals.
How to Care for the Lazuli Bunting
- To take the best care for the Lazuli bunting, birders can choose to attract and nurture these feathery fellows at bird feeders filled with sunflower seeds, thistle (niger/nyjer seeds), and/or white proso millet.
- These birds are known to readily come to feeding areas where their favorite seed treats are available. The most attractive types of bird feeders for Lazuli buntings include large hopper feeders, ground-feeding stations, as well as low platform feeders.
- Lazuli buntings will also gladly visit birdbaths.
- In order to take proper care for Lazuli buntings, high hygiene must be maintained at both bird feeding stations and birdbaths alike.
- Note that Lazuli buntings can become ill when exposed to accumulated droppings on feeder trays and/or leftover bits of hulls and seeds that have turned moldy.
- The seed feeders must be cleaned at least once every two weeks. The seed feeders must be cleaned more often during damp and warm weather conditions, as well as during times of heavy feeding.
- As confirmed by research, the best way to remove bacteria from seed feeders/bird baths is to soak them in a diluted bleach solution for about 10 minutes, rather than using only water and soap.
- Mind that contaminated debris and mold can attach to feeders. Therefore, feeders should be taken apart in order to effectively remove all debris. Afterwards, the feeders should be washed with antibacterial soap and hot, boiling water, or soaked in a diluted bleach solution for best results. Alternatively, they can be soaked in a weak vinegar solution and then thoroughly and carefully scrubbed with a bottle brush.
- Always rinse bird feeder/birdbaths thoroughly with clean water alone to remove any remnants from soap/diluted bleach solution that can be harmful to the birds’ welfare.
- Before refilling bird feeders, always allow them to dry completely.
- Birdbaths can make a wonderful tool for attracting Lazuli buntings, among other bird species, as they require water for both drinking and bathing purposes.As a rule of thumb, Lazuli buntings are just as attracted to birdbaths as they are attracted to bird feeders.
- Birdwatch enthusiasts can use readily available, commercial-grade birdbaths. Also, dishes or shallow pans can work wonderfully as a DIY, affordable birdbath.
- Lazuli buntings, like other bird species, seem to prefer birdbaths placed at the ground level. However, raised bird baths are also attractive enough to grant one the joy of taking a closer glimpse at a Lazuli bunting.
- The water in the birdbath should be changed daily in order to remain fresh and clean at all times.
- For birdbaths placed at the ground level, it is highly recommended to arrange a few stones or branches in the water. Doing so allows the bird to stand on the bath and drink water as needed, without getting wet. It becomes especially important not to allow the birds to get wet during the cold winter season, as this will compromise their health and well-being.
- The best way to make a birdbath super attractive is to make use of dripping water. This can be achieved by utilizing a recycled, repurposed old bucket or plastic container with a punched tiny hole at the very bottom, hanged above the birdbath to allow water to drip out. Alternatively, you can find drippers or sprays readily available from both online and offline retailers alike.
- Another way to attract Lazuli buntings to your garden or backyard is to create a bird-friendly habitat. This can be achieved by planting native shrubs to attract the birds by providing them with foraging opportunities. Also, in the presence of suitable native shrubs as part of your garden’s landscape, Lazuli buntings may even choose to nest there.
What Do Lazuli Buntings Eat?
Lazuli Buntings eat various seeds, waste grain, and berries, as well as invertebrates, with invertebrates making up for more than half of their diet in spring and summertime. The young are also fed with invertebrates.
Where Does the Lazuli Bunting Live?
Lazuli Buntings live in a variety of habitats across North America. Lazuli buntings inhabit open habitats in general, such as open woodlands, riparian areas, and scrubby canyons.
How Do You Attract Lazuli Buntings?
To attract Lazuli buntings, you can use bird feeders filled with white proso millet, sunflower seeds, and/or thistle seeds. Lazuli buntings are also attracted to birdbaths.
How Many Eggs to Lazuli Buntings Lay?
The Lazuli buntings lay between 3 and up to 4 eggs, and these birds may produce one or two clutches per year. The eggs are light blue to white or pale greenish-blue in color.
Is the Lazuli Bunting Endangered?
No, the Lazuli bunting is not considered an endangered bird species. The Lazuli bunting is listed as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Based on the global population assessment that took place in October 2016, the population trend is increasing.