A Lovely Migrant

Thursday, July 18th 9 am

It is a glorious summer day and I am walking along the riparian corridor of Berry creek heading to Davis creek. It is late July and there is still water in both of the creeks, though Berry creek has slowed down and I know it will be dry after the next hot spell that will come eventually. This section of the valley lands is always so delightful because of the variety of birds that are always to be found, resident and migrants, and because of the tall Oregon Ash, Willow, and Oak trees that line the area along the creeks. It is always cool and shady. 

Today what I notice right away is the many singing Lazuli Buntings,Passerina amoena. I have written about this bird before and today I will say more about it! This is definitely one of our more beautiful neotropical migrants. This means they are not resident year- round but that they come in the spring to nest and remain for 6 to 8 weeks and then return to Northern Mexico, via South Eastern Arizona, for most of their lives. They may migrate in small flocks but during the breeding season, early April into May, they can be quite territorial, chasing out all other males.

The brilliant blue head of the male with an orange chest band and white belly, make it breathtakingly gorgeous. This is unlike the subtle, and a little drab, rust colors of the female, which I was not able to photograph.  I could see that the females were busy feeding fledglings who were begging for food in the low shrubs. She looks very finch-like and I can see why these birds are related to cardinals and tanangers.

In the Willits area these birds are fairly common and come to feeders (at least to mine) regularly in the early part of spring. They have a wonderful song that I learned(from the Cornell bird site) is unique to each Male Lazuli and year- old males create their own song, not having one when they arrive on the breeding grounds, from listening to the older males in the area. They take pieces of different birds songs and create their own, unique, signature song. This is what the Cornell site, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Lazuli_Bunting/overview, says:

  • We recognize people by their voice and Lazuli Buntings may do the same thing. When young males copy older, nearby males, they create a kind of “song neighborhood” where songs from a particular area all sound similar. Males from the same neighborhood learn to recognize and tolerate each other. They respond more aggressively to unfamiliar songs that come from outside their neighborhood.

It is no wonder they react fairly aggressively to me playing the Sibley recorded song on my phone! It will stand out as a new and completely unknown male from out of the area.

They eat a variety of insects such as caterpillars,grasshoppers,(we have so many of these in the pastures here) ants, beetles, and other insects they pick off the leaves and then they also will eat a variety of seeds and berries. This flexibility in eating habits and their variety of habitats from brushy areas, burned area edges, open woodlands, and riparian corridors, to residential areas, has helped the Lazuli bunting populations to stay stable and not be a species of concern.

How fortunate we are that this unique and spectacular migrant is here for us to enjoy, even if it is for such a short time.

This spec