Lazuli buntings (Passerina amoena) are known as “fire followers” because they are often common in years following a forest or chaparral fire. For years I tried to get decent lazuli bunting pictures. Finally on a recent hike in the area ravaged by the 2017 Cove Fire (Modoc National Forest near Adin CA) those elusive, for me, birds were in abundance.
The Family Cardinalidae contains some of the brightest and most striking species – the males being very distinctive and easily identified. Although lazuli bunting females are a drab greyish brown with a buffy wash across the breast, males are resplendent with bright turquoise blue above, white on the belly and a tawny orange wash across the breast and a thick, white wing bar. Males require up to two years to achieve their breeding plumage.
Lazuli buntings have conical-shaped bills adapted to eating fruit and seeds in the fall and winter and insects during the breeding season, generally foraging low or on the ground.
Counterparts to the indigo buntings in the East, lazuli buntings breed throughout the western United States and migrate mainly to the western slope of Mexico during the winter. Shortly after breeding lazuli buntings molt a few of their feathers. They then move to the Southwest United States or Northwest Mexico where for a month or two they finish replacing their feathers before heading further south for the winter.
Watching these beautiful birds flash their bright colors in the brilliant morning sunlight was worth the long search.