Status: Uncommon regular spring and fall migrant west and central, rare east. Uncommon regular breeder west, rare casual north.
Hybrid zone between Lazuli and Indigo Buntings shown in the area with cross-hatching between the dashed lines with pure Lazuli Buntings occurring in western Nebraska west of the dashed line.
Documentation: Specimen: UNSM ZM10346, 11 Jul 1910 Glen, Sioux Co.
Taxonomy: No subspecies are recognized (Pyle 1997).
This species and Indigo Bunting hybridize where their summer ranges meet in the northern Great Plains (Sibley and Short 1959, Kroodsma 1975, Emlen et al 1975). However, because of sympatric occurrence without interbreeding in the southwest United States and non-random hybridization in the northern Great Plains, they are generally regarded as separate species (Mayr and Short 1970, AOU 1983, Sibley and Monroe 1990). Studies in northeast Wyoming (Baker and Boylan 1999) suggest that females prefer mates of the same species, and that mates of the other species are chosen possibly as a last resort; fitness of hybrids appears to be inferior to that of pure birds. Recent genetic studies show that the hybrid zone has narrowed and moved westward at about 1.5 miles per year during the last 40-45 years and is predicted to continue to narrow (Carling and Zuckerberg 2011). The hybrid zone runs north-south and is rather narrow; in width it extends approximately from central Keith Co to central Garden Co, a distance of approximately 35 miles. Westward expansion of Indigo Bunting appears to be an important factor in the shift westward of the hybrid zone (Carling and Zuckerberg 2011); assortative mating and selection against hybrids may be narrowing the zone and, in effect, reinforcing separation of the species. The hybrid zone is much narrower than in the 1960s (Short 1961).
It is possible that some reports of Lazuli Bunting east of the rather restricted Nebraska breeding range may be of hybrids which resemble Lazuli Bunting more than Indigo Bunting. Short (1961) found hybrids in a 500-mile-wide zone from Blair, Washington Co, Nebraska west to Greeley, Colorado, and stated that hybrids should be expected statewide although more commonly in the west. Nine of 18 birds collected by Short (1961) in eastern Nebraska showed backcross characteristics, although this would have been difficult to discern in the field. A bird resembling an Indigo Bunting with a white abdomen, a common hybrid type (Kroodsma 1975), was as far east as Schramm SP, Sarpy Co 26 May 1997, and a hybrid female with wing bars was at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co 13 May 2010. Reporters to eBird in summer 2019 were cautious about field identification of Lazuli and Indigo Buntings on the Pine Ridge; of 35 total reports, 16 were Lazuli Buntings, seven were Indigo Buntings, six were Lazuli/Indigo (PDo, SMl, VRe, DTo, JNi), and six were Lazuli X Indigo (PDo). Since the narrow hybrid zone lies at the east edge of the Pine Ridge, these reports, if true, suggest a continuing westward movement of Indigo Bunting genes.
Johnsgard (1979) suggested that most Platte River Valley birds were hybrids, Brown et al (1996) stated that of 27 birds netted in Keith Co which appeared to be Lazuli Buntings, six showed some hybrid characteristics, and Rosche (1994) indicated that all territorial males at the Clear Creek WMA, Keith Co appeared to be hybrids, based on their resemblance to Indigo Buntings but with white abdomens. The presence of similar individuals in the Pine Ridge area led Rosche (1982) to note that hybrids were far more prevalent there than were pure Indigo Buntings. Hybrids were “common” around Fort Robinson SHP 14 Jun 2006.
Spring: Apr 25,26,27 <<<>>> May 28,29,29
Migrants arrive in early May, with early dates in late Apr and an earlier report 22 Apr 1990 Dundy Co (Grzybowski 1990).
Migrants have been reported statewide; reports from the east have increased significantly since 2000; in all, there are about 79 such reports 29 Apr-2 Jun, over half since 2013. Earliest are 29 Apr 1992 and 30 Apr 2005 Lancaster Co and latest 27 May 2005 Dixon Co, two videographed on 27 May 2015 at Omaha, two in Burt Co 27 May 2019, 1 Jun 2009 Dixon Co, two at Niobrara Valley Preserve, Brown Co 12 Jun 2019, and 2 Jun 2015 Nuckolls Co.
- High counts: 9 near Gering, Scotts Bluff Co 20 May 1996, 8 there on 8 May 1995 and 18 May 1997, and 8 at Hastings, Adams Co 24 May 1938 (Staley 1938).
Summer: Currently, breeding is probably restricted to the Pine Ridge in Sioux and Dawes Cos, the Wildcat Hills and Scotts Bluff NM areas in Scotts Bluff Co, and Bighorn Escarpment in Scotts Bluff and Banner Cos, and probably the Niobrara Valley Preserve, Brown Co.
Although Johnsgard (1980) stated that Lazuli Bunting bred east to eastern Cherry Co, there are no recent breeding season reports between the Pine Ridge and eastern Cherry Co, suggesting that Lazuli Buntings breeding in the Niobrara Valley Reserve, if they continue to occur here, are disjunct and may be at risk of extirpation by genetic swamping by Indigo Bunting. Brogie and Mossman (1983) found several singing male Lazulis, albeit outnumbered 40:1 by Indigos, and considered Lazuli Buntings to have “certainly nested” in the preserve (Mossman and Brogie 1983). Mollhoff (2001) showed summer occurrences in Keya Paha/Brown Cos in the period 1984-89. There are recent reports there 19 Jun 2015 and of three on 28 Jun 2015. One was in Cherry Co 28 Jul 2009, and singles were at Valentine NWR 3 Jul 2015 and at Fort Niobrara NWR 8 Jul 2008. One was about three miles east of Niobrara, Knox Co 5 Jun-3 Jul 2001, and one was found on a BBS route in Knox and Antelope Cos between 1967 and 1977.
Elsewhere, there are scattered nesting season (Jun-Jul) reports, none accompanied by evidence of nesting. At Crescent Lake NWR, Garden Co there are three reports 2-5 Jun that are likely migrants, although one was there 1 Jul 1977. One was in Thomas Co Jun 2008. There are several reports in Keith Co that might indicate breeding: at Lake Ogallala 2 Jun 2007, 7 Jun 2011, 8 Jun 2011, and 17 Jun 2001, for Keith Co Jul-Aug 1977 (Rosche and Johnsgard 1984), 21 Jul 2016, and territorial singing males 5 Jul 1987 and 25 Jul 1984 (Rosche 1994). In Lincoln Co there are several reports also: 30 Jun 1965, 30 Jun 1966, 22 Jun 2003, and one singing 8 Jul and 19 Jul 2010. One was at Red Willow Reservoir, Frontier Co 15 Jul 2010.
In addition, there are reports from Chase Co 4 Jul 1989, 1-2 on 13-18 Jun 2009, 12 Jun 2013, and during the second breeding bird atlas 2006-2011 there were reports in Chase, Dundy, and Hitchcock Cos (Mollhoff 2016). Mollhoff (2001) showed summer occurrences in Furnas and Custer Cos in the period 1984-89.
Reports in summer in the east are not expected and are probably overshoot spring migrants; these are 5 Jun 1962 Platte Co, 11 Jun 1976 Douglas-Sarpy Cos, 19 Jun 1983 Otoe Co, 19 Jun 2004 York Co, and 2 Aug 2004 a singing male in Dixon Co. An old easterly report of possible breeding is of a male at Hastings, Adams Co 18 May 1935 that was joined by a female; on 4 Jun, four males and two females were present (Swenk 1935).
- Breeding phenology:
Eggs: 1-10 Jul
Fledglings: 19 Jul-1 Aug
Fall: summer <<<>>> Sep 25,26,26
Departure begins in Jul-Aug and is usually completed by early Sep, although there are later reports 30 Sep 2017 Scotts Bluff Co, 1 Oct 2016 Loup Co, 3 Oct 1998 immature male Lake Ogallala (Brown and Brown 2001), 4 Oct 2015 two female recaptures Wildcat Hills NC, Scotts Bluff Co, 9 Oct 1972 Perkins Co, 10 Oct 1975 Sarpy Co “excellent details” (Williams 1976), 12 Oct 1961 Scotts Bluff Co, and 13 Oct 1916, a male specimen, HMM 2829, taken at Inland, Clay Co.
There are very few reports in fall away from the Panhandle: 13 Aug 2017 Alma, Harlan Co, 17 Aug 1936 Logan Co (specimen, UNSM ZM7102), 18 Aug 1960 Webster Co, 20 Aug 2011 Lincoln Co, 23 Aug 2001 Fort Niobrara NWR (no details), 27 Aug 1973 Perkins Co, 29 Aug 1970 Perkins Co, 31 Aug 1985 McPherson Co, 22 Sep 2009 Fort Niobrara NWR, and the four Oct records listed above.
Lazuli Bunting begins fall molt on the breeding grounds but suspends the molt in order to undertake a molt migration to the southwest USA, where the molt it is completed (Greene et al 2014).
High counts: 22 in East Ash Canyon, Dawes Co 5 Sep 2015, 5 at Wind Springs Ranch, Scotts Bluff Co, 25 Aug 2001, and 5 at Wright’s Gap Road, Scotts Bluff Co 4 and 12 Aug 2018.
BBS: Breeding Bird Survey
HMM: Hastings Municipal Museum
NC: Nature Center
NWR: National Wildlife Refuge
SHP: State Historical Park
SP: State Park
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WMA: Wildlife Management Area (State)
Photograph (top) of a Lazuli Bunting in the Wildcat Hills, Scotts Bluff Co by Phil Swanson.
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