Lazuli Bunting

I had a new visitor to my birdfeeder this spring – a lazuli bunting. He was a splash of blue among the regulars. Apparently Colorado’s Front Range is just on the eastern edge of their breeding grounds.

Photo credit Becky Matsubara

Aside from their coloring, one of the neatest things about lazuli buntings is their song. Just like humans all have a unique voice, so too do these birds. Before I go on, I should define the difference between songs and calls of birds. Calls tend to be short and simple, and act as notifications: there’s food nearby, a predator is approaching, or  communicating location to others in the flock. Songs, on the other hand, are longer and more complex. They have structure, rhythm, and repetition. Males are usually the ones singing, to attract mates or to claim or defend a territory.

Among lazuli buntings males, the base of their songs is a complex series of squeaky, jumbled notes that are repeated 2-5 times. Yet each male varies the order of their notes to create their own unique song. Lazuli buntings create their unique song as yearling when they arrive at their breeding grounds. They combine fragments of other males’ songs and rearrange syllables to create a song of their own that they will use for life.

Not only that, but neighborhoods of birds have their own “accent.” Since the younger males create songs from nearby older males, songs in a neighborhood all sound similar just as humans in different regions of a country have different accents. As a result of this similarity, male birds in the same neighborhood recognize each other and will tolerate one another. I only had the one bunting visit my feeder, but now I’m listening and watching for more!