2016 Faves—Passerines, part 5: skip to L….

No Indigo Buntings or juncoes to show, unfortunately. Besides, Juncoes, my nemesis bird up here (oh, there are plenty of them, I just can’t get great shots as I did at The Coast) are actually called Dark-eyed Juncoes, so when I do get a cooperator, (s)he’ll be in Part 2!

So, again, we skip to my Loo! Two of my favourite birds of the spring and early summer are the Lazuli Bunting and the Lewis’s Woodpecker. Both are distinctly western species. Although I often feel we’re shortchanged west of the Rockies and north of the 49th Parallel when it comes to colourful warblers and woodpeckers and even birds with blue, these two help considerably to make up for it:

The Lazuli Bunting is available at The Coast, but it’s really more of an Interior bird. By the way, pronunciation of this name varies among birders. While many say “La-ZHOO-lee,” I prefer “LAZ-you-lee,” as the name comes from the lapis lazuli gemstone of the similar blue colour. To be fair, I used to say LAZ-you-LIE, but that’s not approved, apparently!

It’s taken a while, but I now know where I can reliably look for them here, although the time window is a bit narrow. They’re more likely to be seen in the early breeding season. Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology offers some tips:

“Bushy hillsides, riparian habitats, wooded valleys, sagebrush, chaparral, open scrub, recent post-fire habitats, thickets and hedges along agricultural fields, and residential gardens.” (Don’t find many in town up here, but they’re out there on the periphery.)

When we know what to listen for, we can often hear Lazuli’s before we see them:

“Each male Lazuli Bunting two years of age and older sings only one song, composed of a series of different syllables, and unique to that individual. Yearling males generally arrive on the breeding grounds without a song of their own. Shortly after arriving, a young male develops its own song, which can be a novel rearrangement of syllables, combinations of song fragments of several males, or a copy of the song of one particular older male.

Song copying by young male Lazuli Buntings can produce song neighborhoods, in which songs of neighboring males are similar.” (Cornell LoO)

I am the target text.

NOTE: ALTHOUGH WOODPECKERS ARE NOT CONSIDERED PASSERINES, I have included one here because it doesn’t fit into the other broad categories that I’m using. This is NOT intended to be a scientific blog; it’s a highly personal one. Please don’t get too bent out of shape by this issue.

The Lewis’s Woodpecker, on the other hand, is not known for vocalizing, but for its distinctive colouring, and its flycatcher like hawking* (mixed metaphor? see below) of insects. We often see them interacting with other birds that forage in the same range of the food chain. One notable example, last year, involved Lewis’s, Eastern Kingbirds, Yellow Warblers, and Bullock’s Orioles in competition at Okanagan Lake Park, just south of Kelowna. My photo capture of a Lewis’s being dive-bombed by the EAKI are not good enough to publish, but the moment was one to cherish!

Lewis’s Woodpecker on the Long Branch
LEWO closeup….

*Hawking: a feeding strategy in birds involving catching flying insects in the air. The term usually refers to a technique of sallying out from a perch to snatch an insect and then returning to the same or a different perch. This technique is called “flycatching” and some birds known for it are several families of “flycatchers”: Old World flycatchers, monarch flycatchers, and tyrant flycatchers. Other birds, such as swifts, swallows, and nightjars, also take insects on the wing in continuous aerial feeding. The term “hawking” comes from the similarity of this behaviour to the way hawks take prey in flight, although, whereas raptors may catch prey with their feet, hawking is the behaviour of catching insects in the bill. Many birds have a combined strategy of both hawking insects and gleaning them from foliage. (Wikipedia)


The list above does not mention Woodpeckers! But it should mention Lewis’s Woodpeckers which really do exhibit this behaviour!

Last spring, on Beaver Lake Road, we ran into a couple of ardent middle-aged bird watchers from Alberta who had sneaked away from a wedding they were in town for and had found a single Lewis’s in the area. They were ecstatic because this species is very rare where they’re from. And their enthusiasm infected us, as well, for we had never seen one in the BLR area before. How great to learn from the visitors! Seen only occasionally at The Coast, the Lewis’s was one of several birds that brought us up here!



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