Lazuli Bunting & American Goldfinch Photo By Ron Holmes
Colorful summer birds in Skagit County include hummers, tanagers, warblers, thrushes, and finches. A rare gem to find is the Lazuli Bunting (LAZB), named after the brilliant blue of the male. The name is derived from the Latin word “azulis” meaning “azure,” the same source of the blue semi-precious stone lapis lazuli. The male in breeding plumage has a blue hood, back and tail. The chest is rusty, orange followed by a white belly and under-tail coverts. There are two distinct white wing-bars on the adult male. The female and juveniles look very similar and fall into the LBJ category of “little, brown, jobs.” However, the female tail feathers do show just a hint of blue and she has two faint white wing-bars. Not to be confused with other area blue birds, the LAZB is small at 5.5 inches and has a triangular finch-shaped bill.
Their preferred habitat is riparian brush and open woodland. They are more plentiful in Eastern Washington where they can be found in arid brushy canyons, chaparral and along the edges of cleared areas. The numbers of LAZBs are increasing with the creation of habitat caused by early successional forest regrowth due to logging and fires. The addition of irrigation systems in otherwise arid agricultural areas is providing suitable habitat with plentiful water and food. Their main food source is insects. They will glean for insects and seeds. So look for this bird at mid to low-levels. No “warbler-neck” with this one. Usually found along the edges of open areas too.
In early summer the male will sing to establish territory and attract a mate. Nothing too unique with this plan yet each male by his second year has his own unique song. Studies are finding that the younger males choose songs similar to older successful males nearby, therefore developing a “neighborhood” dialect. Once a male attracts a female they will both aggressively defend their territory. The pair stays monogamous with a few noted exceptions when the female is attracted to a better song. The nest is constructed near the ground in a bush. The cup shaped nest is woven out of grasses, roots and bark. It is sometimes lined with animal fur and wrapped in silk. The average clutch is four pale blue eggs. Incubation is twelve days and the young fledge in 10-12 days. As soon as the young fledge, LAZBs move to higher elevations. They will form loose flocks with other finches and sparrows.
The male doesn't stay brilliant, azure blue for long. He will start molting on the breeding grounds, then stop and migrate to “molting areas” in southern Arizona, New Mexico and Baja California. After the molt is complete, they fly to their wintering sites in Western Mexico. The North American Breeding Bird Survey estimates that 97% of LAZBs spend time in Western Mexico. Their breeding range is west of the 100th longitude from southern Canada to northern New Mexico and western Nebraska. Near the Great Plains, these birds hybridize with the Indigo Bunting.
The best areas in Skagit County to find this bird is inland starting on State Route 20. The photograph of the American Goldfinch and Lazuli Bunting by photographer Ronald Holmes was taken on Butler Hill in Skagit County. Visit our website and click on the heading “birding” for more Skagit locations and species to see this summer during your outdoor adventures. Get outside and find these “summer gems”!
References available upon request.