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Lazuli Bunting

May 2018 Bird of the Month

Lazuli Bunting          Passerina amoena                       Andy McCormick

Length  5.5”   Wingspan  8.75”   Weight  0.54 oz (15.5 g)    AOU Alpha Code LAZB

 

Named after the gemstone lapis lazuli, the Lazuli Bunting is a brilliant spring songster.

In spring the male Lazuli Bunting will sing from a prominent perch for hours at a time. Its song is a bubbly series of repeated phrases that liven up shrubby areas in which it lives. It is comfortable in willow thickets, sagebrush, chaparral, open scrub, hedges along agricultural fields, and in recent post-fire habitats (Green, et al), and can be found from sea level up to 9,000 feet or more in the Sierra Nevada and Rocky Mountains.

 

Young male Lazuli Buntings learn their songs from adult males singing in their neighborhood. However, they do not copy the song exactly. They copy segments of songs and “cut and paste” these fragments from up to 10 different adult males into a unique pattern of syllables forming their own song. This may be one reason that it can be difficult to recognize a standard song for Lazuli Bunting.

The song of the Lazuli Bunting is a complex combination of syllables most of which are repeated 2-5 times, but within the first year a male will settle on a song sequence. This is called a crystallized song,  and it will be retained thereafter for life (Green, et al). Lazuli Buntings are also persistent singers and will sing long into the summer when other species have quit.

You can see and hear a Lazuli Bunting singing at the Macaulay Library

Nests in Shrubs

True to their favored habitat most Lazuli Buntings build an open cup nest low to the ground in a shrub or low tree. The female builds the nest of grass and weeds attached to a stem or forked branch. Usually 3-5 pale bluish white eggs are deposited. The female incubates them for about 12 days. The young are fed only by the female and they leave the nest in another 10-12 days after hatching. The male will take over feeding after fledging, while the female attempts a second brood. Two broods are common.

Molting Hotspot

In spring Lazuli Buntings migrate along the Pacific and Central flyways and will arrive in Washington in May. Following breeding, they will begin a complete molt of their feathers on the breeding grounds. By July they are on the move south in small flocks. On the way they will stop in the southwestern U.S. and Sonora, Mexico, where they will spend about a month to finish their molt. Some will winter in place, but many will resume migration and winter in Western and Central Mexico in the same kind of brushy habitat they enjoy in the north.  

 Interbreeding is Common

Lazuli Bunting is in the genus Passerina, from the Latin for sparrows. It shares this genus with the Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) and these two species will interbreed in a zone including Western Montana and along the border of British Columbia and Alberta (Green, et al).  

The species epithet ameona, is from Latin for pleasing to the senses, or charming. Lazuli is from the Latin lazulus, azure for the male’s breeding plumage. The origin of the word “bunting” is unknown, but thought to come from the Scandinavian buntin, short and thick, plump (Holloway).

The population of Lazuli Buntings appears to be stable, but they are subject to nest parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds, which are growing in numbers. There are no conservation plans in place.

Photo credit ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­- Mick Thompson. References available upon request from amccormick@eastsideaudubon.org.

 

 

Lazuli Bunting by Mick Thompson

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