Bird of the Month by Russ Chappell
A small, stocky songbird with a cone-shaped bill, sloping forehead and slightly forked tail, the Lazuli Bunting earns its scientific name, Passerina amoena, meaning beautiful sparrow, because of the male’s colorful bright blue-and-orange display.
Males are easy to spot as they fly from shrub to shrub, singing squeaky, chaotic songs and defending their territories. Females are usually foraging for seeds and insects nearby, and are grayish-brown, with a blue shade on their wings and tail, two buff wing bars, and a light cinnamon to tan on their breasts. Both sexes measure five to six inches long and weigh around 0.5 to 0.6 ounce, with wingspans slightly over eight and one-half inches.
Lazuli like to frequent feeders, especially those with white proso millet, sunflower seeds or nyjer thistle seeds. They also feed on caterpillars, spiders, grasshoppers, ants, beetles, butterflies, and other insects from the understory, as well as berries, seeds, oats, chickweed and other grasses.
Pairs are primarily monogamous during the breeding season, but may seek additional mates, a phenomenon known as extra-pair copulation. The female constructs her nest near the edge of a shrub or bush, usually within three feet of the ground. She weaves grass, bark, leaves and spider webs into a cup-shaped nest about three and one-half inches in diameter, with an inner cup about two inches across. She lays two broods per season with three or four pale-blue to greenish-blue eggs, slightly less than an inch long and about one-half inch wide. Incubation is eleven to 14 days, with nesting lasting nine to eleven days. Chicks are basically helpless when they hatch, with a light down and their eyes closed.
After breeding Lazuli molt and in the fall migrate to southeastern Arizona and Mexico, where insects are abundant due to the monsoon. A month or two later, once their feathers are fully replaced, they travel farther south for the winter. Conservation-wise, Lazuli Bunting are not on the State of North America's Birds Watch List, so it is likely this beautiful species will bring cheer to your backyard feeder before heading south for the winter!
The Prescott Audubon Society is an official chapter of the National Audubon Society. Check it out online at PrescottAudubon.org.