SCHIESS: Lazuli Buntings show up in the Upper Snake River Valley
Backyards in the Upper Snake River Valley are splashed with color. The brilliant oranges, yellows, blues and reds come not only from the manicured flowerbeds, but also from visiting birds as the temperatures increase.
Last week a flash of bright blue caught my eye while I was cleaning out leaves for a ditch and during the hot afternoon — two Lazuli buntings showed up at one of my feeders. Since then the numbers have increased not only in my yard but in others in the Rexburg area.
The choice of food seems to be critical in attracting these mostly insect feeding birds. The cheap Wild Bird feed with cracked corn seems to bring these beautiful songbirds to the backyards as they keep cleaning out the food that many birds pick through or refuse.
As with most birds, Lazuli males are the most colorful. With a turquoise blue head and back, reddish upper chest and the white lower chest and belly, they are unmistakable. In flight their dark wings edged in blue with two white wing bars make them a very showy bird. The females have more subdued coloring consisting of grays and browns tinged with pale blues and reds on the back and upper breasts.
These beautiful buntings are rather weird and tricksters. They have different song patterns making them interesting to observe and listen to. Yearling males show up at their breeding grounds without a song. Each individual will develop only one song comprised of different syllables that is unique to them. These buzzy songs may be an imitation of an older male or a rearrangement of syllables from several males. “Song neighborhoods” may develop by young males producing similar songs of a group called a “decoration” or a “sacrifice” of buntings.
Their molting is also a strange phenomenon. They will begin molting their feathers on their breeding grounds in late summer. Then they will stop molting while they migrate to one of two molting “hot-spots” in Arizona or New Mexico where they will complete the molt before heading to Mexico where they spend the winter with other “snow-birds”.
The Lazuli Buntings will nest and summer in the Upper Snake River Valley consisting of loose groups. Interestingly groups will occupy a certain area or backyard feeders of one house and never visit another only a mile or two away. Often their nests are invaded by the parasitic Brown-headed cowbirds that lay a couple of eggs in the bunting’s nest and move on. Where the Lazuli and Indigo Buntings reside in the same areas, they will cross making for some interesting colorations. Several years ago I had one of these crosses in my yard most of the summer.
These small finches like bushy areas including sagebrush near agriculture fields or recent burned areas where they can forage on insects, seeds and fruit.
These buntings are rather shy but once you have observed them in your backyard, they will be remembered as their color is unmistakably beautiful, rivaling the blue flowers of your garden. If you see a flash of blue and red leaving a bird feeder, it is probably a Lazuli. Watch closely, it and others will probably return.