The Lazuli Bunting is a banding crew favorite, and we often can’t help smiling when we capture these spectacular birds. The blue head and back, rusty breast, and white wing bars make the male stand out, while the drabber females can be an identification mystery until we find the delicate blue wash on the rump or carpal wing joint.
The striking color of the Lazuli Bunting looks chalky close up, as if it might rub off on your hand. This is because the iridescent blue is a “structural color,” not a pigment. Tiny particles in the feather scatter only short wavelengths, on the blue end of the spectrum. If you put the feather between you and the light, the blue disappears.
This species is fun for banders to age using molt limits. It grows (molts) adult feathers in a different sequence than most songbirds, therefore the retained juvenal plumage help us identify first year breeders.
You don’t need to visit areas exclusive to biologists in order to see a Lazuli Bunting. This bird might frequent your back yard or nearby fields, as it is found in shrubs, open spaces and forest edges within the western half of the United States. It breeds in northern California west of the Sierra Nevada and in Oregon east of the Cascades and in some western valleys. They have been known to interbreed with the Indigo Bunting where their ranges overlap in the Great Plains and Southwest.
Their song is a quick warbly one—we remember it in pairs: two medium-pitched notes, two low, then two high followed by a rapid jumble of notes. Luckily they like to perch exposed while they sing, so you can spot that splash of blue. You’ll have to get moving to enjoy them, though, as some
begin to migrate to western Mexico at the end of July!