Lazuli Bunting, apparently named for the gemstone lapis lazuli whose color is similar to the adult male’s hood, is found through much of the western United States and southwestern Canada. Males acquire their individually distinctive song early in their first breeding season by incorporating parts of the songs of older, nearby territorial males into their new song. This song-copying results in a neighborhood dialect of similar songs in one location (Greene et al. 1996).
DISTRIBUTION. During the 1987-1992 field work of the TBBA project, volunteers found single probable and possible breeding locations for Lazuli Bunting in the Panhandle and another probable location (latilong-quad 31097-B6) further south and east. Seyffert (2001) reports few breeding records for this bunting in Texas and describe it as a rare summer resident in the Panhandle where most nestings have occurred.
Most breeding of this species is found at low to mid-elevations of the Pacific Coast from British Columbia south to northern Baja California and east to western North Dakota and Colorado (Righter 1998, Sauer et al. 2005). This bunting winters in western Mexico from Sonora to Oaxaca (Howell and Webb 1995).
SEASONAL OCCURRENCE. Northward migrating Lazuli Buntings are found in Texas primarily in the Trans-Pecos, Panhandle and South Plains regions between April 13 and June 25 with most present from early April to late May. Lazuli Buntings return from August 7 to October 24, mostly before mid- September. The species is rare to very rare in winter (Oberholser 1974, Lockwood and Freeman 2004).
BREEDING HABITAT. In Colorado, the closest state with breeding habitat data for Lazuli Bunting, the species breeds primarily in riparian woodlands (42%), and about the same percentage in shrubland areas at elevations between 1700 and 2100 m (5500- 7000 ft). Some typical shrubs of these habitats include mountain mahogany, serviceberry, willow and chokecherry (Righter 1998).
In western Montana, 95% of 109 nests were within 1 m (3 ft) of the ground in dense vegetation, using a wide variety of shrubs. The nest is usually placed in the fork of a branch and supported by several stems, often at the edge of a bush. The female selects the site and builds the open cup of leaves, coarse grasses, rootlets and strips of bark and often wraps the outside with insect or spider silk. The nest is lined with fine grasses, rootlets and animal hair. The outside diameter is 8-11.5 cm (3.2-4.6 in), inside diameter is 4-7 cm (1.5-3 in), height is 4.4-9.4 cm (2.2-3.7 in) and the cup depth is 3-5.5 cm (1.2-2.2 in; Greene et al. 1996).
The female usually lays 3-4 (range 1-6) smooth, slightly glossy, pale bluish to pale greenish-blue eggs (indistinguishable from those of Indigo Bunting (P. cyanea). She incubates the eggs for 11-14 days. Most nestlings fledge at 9-11 days after hatching. Rates of parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) range from 0-100%, depending on geographic area and distance from a cowbird roost (Harrison 1979 Greene et al. 1996).
STATUS. Lazuli Bunting is a very rare breeding species in Texas, but an uncommon migrant through the Trans-Pecos, Panhandle and South Plains regions (Oberholser 1974, Lockwood and Freeman 2004). Data from 502 Breeding Bird Survey routes across western North America do not provide a statistically significant trend estimate for the past 4 decades, but suggest the population has been roughly stable over that period (Sauer et al. 2005). This suggests that this bunting will continue to be present in Texas during spring and fall for at least some years. Text by Robert C. Tweit (2006)
Greene, E., V R. Muether and W. Davison. 1996. Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena). InThe birds of North America, No. 232 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
Harrison, H. H. 1979. A field guide to western birds’ nests. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, and J. Fallon. 2005. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2005. Version 6.2 2006. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel MD < http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs>
Seyffert, K. D. 2001. Birds of the Texas Panhandle. Texas A&M University Press, College Station