If you live in the western half of the United States, you’re likely to see these aquamarine songbirds throughout most of the spring and summer. They provide a pop of color and a burst of song to brushy, grassy landscapes. Here are 13 interesting facts about Lazuli Buntings.
13 Facts about Lazuli Buntings
1. They are native to the western United States.
Only the western United States is within the Lazuli Bunting’s habitat range. They are short-distance migrants, which means they do change locations between summer and winter but don’t travel extremely far.
During the breeding season they can be found along the west coast of the U.S., east to the Dakotas, and as far south as northern areas of Arizona and New Mexico. In the fall they will head south during the night, and spend winters along the western coast of Mexico with a small population in southeastern Arizona.
2. They prefer open, brushy areas
The Lazuli Bunting is not a bird that prefers deep forests. Instead of leafy canopies and rustling branches, it likes to live in open woodlands interspersed with thickets and meadows. Residential gardens, brushy areas along agricultural fields and shrubby areas near streams are all great habitat for these birds.
When predators do appear, thickets make great hiding places large predators can’t get into. Lazuli Buntings stay close to the ground so they can dart into a brush pile at the first sign of danger.
3. Lazuli Buntings search for food near the ground.
Unlike some other insectivorous songbirds that forage for insects in the tops of trees, the Lazuli Bunting hunts for insects closer to the ground in leaves and grasses. Its favorite live prey are grasshoppers, beetles, and ants.
To supplement their protein intake, Lazuli Buntings incorporate seeds and berries into their diet. Some native options that grow in the western United States are chickweed, chokecherry, and oats. They are known for balancing on stems and grasses to reach seeds.
4. Males defend their nesting territory by singing.
Along with being colorful, male Lazuli Buntings are songsters. They whistle a cheery, scattered song from visible perches on high points in their habitat. While sweet and melodic, this song serves multiple purposes.
In breeding season, it is used to attract potential mates. Males also sing when they are establishing their territory and when having territorial disputes. To defend his nest and mate from other males, a mated male sings a hurried song and aggressively chases any intruders. Males are more aggressive during the nesting season than at any other time of year.
Females help defend the nest to a lesser extent. Usually, their time is occupied with raising and feeding the chicks.
5. Males and females look completely different.
Only the male Lazuli Bunting has the characteristic lapis lazuli-colored plumage. During the breeding season males have a brilliantly blue head, back and tail. They have dark wings with a large white stripe, a pumpkin-orange breast and white belly. After the breeding season they molt into winter plumage which is similar, but a lot of brown feathers mix into the blue on their head and back.
Females and immature males look the same, which is quite plain. They are a warm, light-brown all over with a slightly darker cinnamon breast. Very small hints of blue may be seen on the wings and tail.
6. They stop mid-migration to molt
Many species molt either before they migrate, or wait until they reach their destination. Lazuli Buntings, however, break up this process. They will start their molt at the end of the summer before they begin migration. Then they will start heading south, but stop in the southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico. They may spend 1-2 months at these “molting hotspot”, finishing their winter molt and enjoying the insects that become plentiful in those areas from heavy rains. After their molt is complete, they head further south for the rest of the winter.
7. Attract them to bird feeders by offering millet.
Lazuli Buntings are avid visitors to backyard bird feeders. They are easy to attract to your yard. Just offer them millet, Nyjer, or sunflower seeds.
Along with adapting well to eating from bird feeders, they enjoy frequenting native vegetation in suburban backyards. They’ll come to grasses or berry bushes that you plant too.
8. They have unique songs and regional “accents”
Lazuli Buntings each have their own unique song. When the first year males arrive on the breeding grounds, they don’t yet know how to sing. They will quickly put together their own song by listening to other males and combining some of their song fragements with what they develop on their own. Once they decide they have completed their song, they will continue to use it for the rest of their life.
They can also distinguish something akin to human accents. Because the young males use partial fragments of songs from older males in the same area, all Lazuli Bunting males from the same “neighborhood” will have similar sounding songs. They can recognize who’s song sounds similar and who’s doesn’t, and can therefore tell when a male from further away is trying to infiltrate their area. Males tend to be more aggressive towards males with unfamiliar songs than to those who they can tell reside in the same neighborhood.
9. The female does most of the work to raise the chicks.
After the female accepts a male as her mate, she picks out a nest site and builds the nest. It is in a shrub or thicket, and low to the ground, within about 3 feet. Some popular nesting shrubs include wild roses, blackberry, willow, and Oregon grapes.
The cup-shaped nest is made of grass, bark strips, and leaves and held together with spiderwebs. The female incubates the eggs and sometimes feeds the chicks by herself, or sometimes has help from the male. Males often help out with feeding more frequently after the babies have fledged, while she works on refurbishing her nest for a second or third brood.
10. They prefer lower-altitude conditions.
Unlike other finches and buntings, which are well-adapted to altitudes over 9,500 feet, Lazuli Buntings prefer lower altitudes. They live anywhere in the West, provided the habitat suits them and the altitude isn’t too high.
Buntings have been spotted along the California coast and in the Rocky Mountains. The west has a wide spectrum of elevations and habitat types, which offers them many places to live.
11. Lazuli Buntings prefer to live in open woodlands near grasses and brush.
12. They sometimes interbreed with Indigo Buntings
In areas of the Great Plains and southwest, the range of the Lazuli Bunting overlaps with the range of their cousin the Indigo Bunting. In these areas interbreeding has been observed. Indigo Buntings have even more blue feathers, and lack the orange breast of the Lazuli.