Passerina amoenalazuli bunting

Geographic Range

Lazuli buntings, Passerina amoena, live predominantly throughout western North America. Their geographic range extends southward from southern Canada to Mexico. Lazuli buntings also are considered vagrant in Cuba, as sightings are rare.

Lazuli buntings migrate seasonally, and the entire expanse of their geographic range is split into breeding and non-breeding ranges. Northernmost parts of their breeding range begin in southern and southwestern areas of Canada, including areas of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Easternmost parts of their breeding range include areas of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota. This breeding range extends southward into northern Arizona and New Mexico and westward to the Pacific coastline of California. Breeding areas along the Pacific coastline extend southward into northwestern areas of the Yucatan peninsula.

The non-breeding or wintering range consists of areas in south central Arizona that extend along the western coast of Mexico, not including the Yucatan peninsula. (Corman and Wise-Gervais, 2005; Greene, et al., 2014)


The habitat of lazuli buntings consists mainly of riparian areas, open woodland areas, and shrubby desert areas. They also are found in suburban gardens and in fencerow habitats (along agricultural fields) during the breeding season. Their numbers are positively affected by recent burns, as well.

Lazuli buntings may be present in oldfield habitats, fencerows, agricultural plantations, and other early successional areas during migration and on wintering grounds. Young, secondary growth forests also are frequented by these birds. In Mexico, they are even found in garbage dumps. (American Ornithologists' Union, 1983; Chambers, et al., 2011; Greene, et al., 2014)

Physical Description

The typical mass of lazuli buntings ranges from 13 g to 18 g, depending on age and sex. The average mass of female lazuli buntings in/after their second year is 14.8-14.9 g. Male lazuli buntings are typically 0.8 g heavier than female lazuli buntings. Male lazuli buntings have an average mass of 15.4-15.8 in/after their second year. Wing length of male lazuli buntings ranges from 6.7 cm to 7.5 cm, while female lazuli bunting wing length ranges from 6.4 cm to 7.3 cm. On average, males have a wing length 0.4 cm longer than females. Body length of lazuli buntings ranges from 13 cm to 15 cm.

Lazuli buntings are named for the vibrant, blue plumage of males aged two years or older. Both newly-hatched male and female lazuli buntings have grey-brown down feathers present. An initial molt will oftentimes result in buff-colored feathers replacing the natal plumage. A second molt will oftentimes reveal more distinct characteristics about lazuli buntings. Blue coloration can be seen in males following a second molt, but the plumage remains relatively buff. Buff feathers are worn down to reveal coloration is present in more mature buntings. Another molt usually occurs and results in deeper, mature coloration. Mature male feathers are a rich blue color with buff tips in the dorsal area and white, buff-tipped feathers in the ventral area. Males have a cinnamon-colored throat. Feathers of this molt are often buff-tipped. Female buntings also have these buff-tipped feathers after this third molt, but are dorsally more of a slate blue, and more of a basic brown in ventral areas. In general, female coloration is duller than male coloration in this species. (Greene, et al., 2014; Young, 1991)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    13 to 18 g
    0.46 to 0.63 oz
  • Average mass
    15 g
    0.53 oz
  • Range length
    13 to 15 cm
    5.12 to 5.91 in


Lazuli buntings are considered polygynandrous. Both male and female lazuli buntings have been observed mating with multiple partners. Male lazuli buntings arrive at breeding grounds before the females, and defend their claimed territories from other males. Females arrive later and begin building nests within two weeks of arrival. Average nest heights are ca. 1.08 m above the ground. Grasses and bark are used to form the outer parts of the nest, and the nest is later lined with mammal fur or softer grasses. There have been some cases of individuals using spider webs or caterpillar silk to envelope the outsides of nests. Nests typically are 9.25 cm wide and 7.1 cm high and are considered thick-walled. Males use song to attract potential mates. More specifically, males will make a “tseep” call to entice females. Males will display their plumage by expanding their wings. Females will chirp with a “ti-ti-ti-ti” in response to this behavior in males, and may lift their tails in a vertical manner potentially to invite the males for mating. Females may also quiver their wings for this same purpose. Both males and females have been known to mate with other partners. (Greene, et al., 2014; Johnsgard, 2009)

Lazuli buntings often breed in lower layers of wooded areas surrounded by herbaceous vegetation. The breeding season runs from late May/early June through late July/early August. Incubation typically lasts 12 days, with females producing 3 to 5 pale, bluish-white eggs. After incubation, chicks normally hatch beginning early in the day, and all chicks typically hatch within the same day. Sometimes the hatching process can take up to 2 days. Chicks emerge from their eggs naked save for some light grey down present on typically feathered areas, and they have an average mass of 1.3 g upon hatching. Skin is an orange-yellow color, and beaks are yellow. They use “cheep” calls for food and attention. Both males and females will feed fledglings and young birds. Lazuli bunting chicks reach fledgling stage typically around 8 to 11 days. Usually within this time, fledglings will fly from the nest, but remain relatively close. Male and female birds may continue to feed the fledglings, usually for at least 2 weeks after leaving the nest. Pairs of this species often can double-brood within one breeding season. It is possible for yearlings to mate, and female yearlings often do. Males reach reproductive maturity within 1 to 2 years of age. Males new to a breeding area often will have to contest with returning males. (Greene, et al., 2014; Johnsgard, 2009)

  • Breeding interval
    Pairs of this species can often double-brood within one breeding season which usually occurs within a month of the first brood.
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season is estimated to begin starting late May to early June and last through late July to early August. Incubation typically lasts 12 days, with females producing 3 to 5 pale, bluish-white eggs.
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 5
  • Average time to hatching
    12 days
  • Range fledging age
    8 to 11 days
  • Average fledging age
    13 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 to 1 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    1 to 2 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 years

Female lazuli buntings do the majority of brooding. Within two days of chicks hatching, females have been observed spending 73% of their days brooding. This time investment by females decreases rapidly, and by day 5, females have been spend only 36% of their days brooding. While females brood, males have been observed feeding the females, though this characteristic is highly variable. Both males and females will feed their altricial young, though rates of feeding by either males or females will vary. Males will protect females throughout the breeding and brooding processes. (Greene, et al., 2014)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • protecting
      • male
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male


Banding studies of lazuli buntings help determine individual bunting ages, and a record high of 9.9 years was reported in Idaho in 1981. Currently, there are no records on average lifespan in captivity or expected lifespan in captivity or in the wild for lazuli buntings. (US Geological Survey, 2016)


The main form of locomotion on the ground of lazuli buntings is a hopping movement. For longer distances, the birds use rapid wing beats for flights and take a straight flight pattern in most cases. After first migrating to breeding areas, males begin looking for food. They tend to be non-vocal at this point. After a few days, they begin to fight with each other and become increasingly vocal with one another. This behavior often signifies a male bird claiming territory. Males protect their territories from other males. Males' songs tend to get more aggressive when another male enters a territory. This can be accompanied by rapid and uneven flight patterns used to chase of other male birds. Some physical interaction occurs between males of this species, as they fight one another by locking feet together and pecking one another. Males often perch in an erect manner, flatten their body feathers, raise their crown feathers, and flick their tails when their territory is threatened by another male.

Lazuli buntings not only associate with members of their own species, but also associate with other bird species such as chipping sparrows Spizella passerina and migrating warblers. These interactions are more specifically related to migration, as they have been seen beginning their spring migration in this pattern. Individual buntings may group in clusters during breeding season, potentially as an attempt to entice yearlings to brood in groups as well. Migrations from breeding territories begin from July to August. The birds take a break from their migration southward to finish molting, a process they began before departing breeding areas. Upon completion of their molts, the birds will continue their migration southward into territories in and around western Mexico. Migration occurs predominantly at night. While not in flight, the birds may rest. While sleeping, these birds turn their heads around and rest them upon their scapular tract. Individuals preen themselves multiple times a day, a behavior that begins by the time the birds are a week old. They preen by rubbing their bills through their feathers.

There is a recognized zone of hybridization between lazuli buntings and the closely-related indigo buntings (Passerina cyanea). ("Life Histories of North American Cardinals, Grosbeaks, Buntings, Towhees, Finches, Sparrows, and Allies Order Passeriformes: Family Fringillidae PART ONE Genera Richmondena through Pipilo (part)", 1968; Greene, et al., 2014; Young, 1991)

  • Range territory size
    14000 (low) m^2
  • Average territory size
    50000 m^2

Home Range

Home ranges for lazuli buntings range from 1.4-5 ha. These are established in the first few weeks of the breeding seasons. Even females defend territories (via chirping) in the breeding season. (Greene, et al., 2014)

Communication and Perception

Communication styles of lazuli buntings are heavily vocal, much like indigo buntings (Passerina cyanea). Males use vocal cues in mating and territorial interactions. Females respond to both visual cues, such a plumage patterns of males, and auditory cues, such as the songs used by males during mating attempts. Thompson (1976) described the calls of male lazuli bunting in detail. Sounds made by chicks include cheep, chip, churr, and peep sounds, and are used as vocalizations to signify begging and distress. Thompson distinguishes song syllables by various measurements, including amplitude, frequency, and length of syllable.

Vocalization of these syllables may be used in response to predators, to prompt mating, to (re)claim territory, or to alert others of predators. Songs of males are quite complex, lasting about 2 seconds. They can vocalize up to 140 syllables, with each syllable made 2-5 times before moving on. The end og the song is usually a buzzing or beeping.

Female buntings have been known to imitate the sounds of chicks to elicit a response from them. However, females do not produce songs, as males do. (Emlen, et al., 1975; Greene, et al., 2014; Thompson, 1976)

Food Habits

Lazuli buntings are known to be frugivorous, granivorous, and insectivorous. Lazuli buntings feed on seeds from certain grasses, such as needle grass of the genus Stipa, wild oats (Avena fatua), and canary grass (Phalaris canariensis). Lazuli buntings have also been known to eat seeds of miner’s lettuce of the genus Motia. Lazuli buntings also consume arthropods such as grasshoppers, ants, bees, beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and other insects regarded as true bugs. Lazuli buntings have been seen feeding from bird feeders. ("Life Histories of North American Cardinals, Grosbeaks, Buntings, Towhees, Finches, Sparrows, and Allies Order Passeriformes: Family Fringillidae PART ONE Genera Richmondena through Pipilo (part)", 1968; Greene, et al., 2014)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts
  • fruit


Predators of lazuli buntings include raptors such as Cooper’s hawk (Accipiter cooperii) and the sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus). Other species such as domestic cats (Felis catus) attack buntings at birds feeders. Eggs and chicks are preyed upon by other birds, like American crows Corvus brachyrhynchos, common ravens Corvus corax, and black-billed magpies Pica pica. Snakes and several mammal species (red squirrels Tamiasciurus hudsonicus, chipmunks Tamias, and weasels) also consume eggs and young. Oftentimes, individuals will elicit a “seet” sounding call in response to a predator. (Greene, et al., 2014)

Ecosystem Roles

Within an ecosystem, lazuli buntings can function as hosts for internal parasites such as certain protozoans of the Leucocytozoon genus (Wood and Herman, 1943). Feather mites have also been present in lazuli buntings, specifically species of the Proctophyllodes genus (McClure, 1989).

Lazuli bunting nests have also been parasitized by brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater). Brown-headed cowbirds practice brood parasitism, and remove eggs from host species’ nests in order to replace it with their own (King, 1954).

The presence of lazuli buntings in grasslands has been correlated with the intensity of monsoon seasons in areas that experience monsoons. This implies that the presence of lazuli buntings in grassland areas during certain seasons functions as an environmental indicator (Chambers et al., 2011). The environmental impact of lazuli buntings is otherwise yet to be determined. (Chambers, et al., 2011; King, 1954; McClure, 1989; Wood and Herman, 1943)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater)
  • feather mites (Proctophyllodes)
  • protozoans (Leucocytozoon)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

No beneficial impacts on the economy due to lazuli buntings have been found.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

No negative impacts on the economy due to lazuli buntings have been found.

Conservation Status

The IUCN Red List designates Passerina amoena as a species of “Least Concern.” Lazuli buntings are considered “Protected” by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, as designated by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. This act essenitally protects all migratory birds from hunting, sales, and general harassment. Lazuli buntings were given no special status in Michigan’s list, CITES appendices, and the US endangered species list.

These birds are captured on their wintering grounds and sold as pets. They occasionally are victims of window-strikes. However, this species is reported to be increasing, so no major management actions have been enacted for lazuli buntings. (BirdLife International, 2012; Greene, et al., 2014)


Samantha Demery (author), Radford University, Alex Atwood (editor), Radford University, Marisa Dameron (editor), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


an animal that mainly eats fruit


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.


Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


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Gardali, T., A. Holmes, S. Small, N. Nur, G. Geupel, G. Golet. 2006. Abundance patterns of landbirds in restored and remnant riparian forests on the Sacramento River, California, U.S.A.. Restoration Ecology, 14/3: 391-403.

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King, J. 1954. Victims of the brown-headed cowbird in Whitman County, Washington. The Condor, 56/3: 150-154.

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Muehter, V., E. Greene, L. Ratcliffe. 1997. Delayed plumage maturation in lazuli buntings: Tests of the female mimicry and status signalling hypotheses. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 41/4: 281-290.

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Wood, S., C. Herman. 1943. The occurrence of blood parasites in birds from southwestern United States. The Journal of Parasitology, 29/3: 187-196.

Young, B. 1991. Annual molts and interruption of the fall migration for molting in lazuli buntings. The Condor, 93/2: 236-250.