This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the lazuli bunting.
Both the scientific name, passerina amoena (meaning beautiful sparrow), and the common name, lazuli bunting (referring to the gemstone lapis lazuli), celebrate the striking plumage of this small bird.
In breeding season, the male is a brilliant blue color above with a pumpkin-colored breast and white belly. Black lores give a mask-like effect to the eyes and two broad, white bars mark the wings. Females and immatures are grayish brown above and pale cinnamon on the breast, with blue tints only on the wings and tail.
These birds inhabit brushy hillsides, often near streams, wooded valleys, thickets and hedges. In summer, lazulis breed across the north western quarter of the U.S. and in parts of southern Canada. They are early migrants, arriving here in April and leaving by the end of August.
Males perch on a shrub and sing a sweet, high-pitched, fast-paced warbling song to establish a breeding territory. During breeding season, these buntings are generally found alone or in pairs, but otherwise are gregarious and found with sparrows, finches and other bunting species. Eating insects, spiders, berries and seeds, they will come to bird feeders.
Lazuli buntings practice an unusual pattern of molting in stages. The first stage occurs after breeding when they shed some feathers. In July, they begin forming traveling flocks before heading to molting hot spots in southwestern U.S. and northwestern Mexico, where they spend one-two months and complete the replacement of their feathers. From there, they head into western Mexico to spend the winter.
The departure of many of our colorful summer birds will occur all too soon.
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