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Lazuli Bunting

A male Lazuli Bunting shows his breeding plumage.

The number and variety of birds moving through our area in the past couple weeks has been breathtaking. I can hardly wait to get home from work to see what’s new in the yard.

Despite the second dry spring in a row, we are seeing more species this year. Perhaps the drought has adversely affected the amount of natural, food forcing the birds into our yards for respite. Our backyards, especially those that offer food and water, are a true oasis for migrants.

It’s also true that an increase in land scarred by last year’s forest fires means birds no longer have a stopover point. It seems as though tired, thirsty migrants are more dependent upon us than usual.

We have reports of Black-head Grosbeaks and Bullock’s Orioles. But some yards are seeing Chipping Sparrows, Lark Sparrows, Lincoln’s Sparrow and Western Tanagers.

A plethora of Lazuli Buntings arrived on the scene this week. Easily confused by the backyard birder as an Eastern Bluebird, the Lazuli Bunting comes in a close second with his brilliant plumage. They are a small, finch-sized bird with bright blue heads and upperparts, orange breasts and white bellies, dark wings with white wing bars. The female and nonbreeding males are dull brown.

Attract these and other migrants by placing one or more birdbaths in your backyard. Birdbaths should only be 1 to 3 inches deep. Adding a birdbath often doubles the variety of birds you see and making the water move will double it again.

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The sight and sound of moving water is a bird magnet, so adding an electric bubbler or dripper to your bath can make a real difference.

Put out a seed mix heavy in black-oil sunflower. Avoid any mix with fillers like milo. Add suet to your feeding station. Some migrants like Western Tanagers will often show up at suet feeders this time of year. Smear spreadable suet onto the trunk of a tree to attract the widest variety of migrants.

If you only pay attention to the birds in your backyard one time of the year, this is the time! Happy bird feeding!

Kathy Haigh and her husband, John, own and operate the Wild Birds Unlimited, located in Billings and on the web at She is a Certified Bird Feeding Specialist, and is past president of the Yellowstone Valley Audubon Society.

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