Category Archives: Friends of Miles

Lazuli Bunting (Passerina amoena): Barry Kent MacKay

Lazuli Buning (Passerina amoena)

Put very simply, the range of this charming little bird occupies most of temperate western North America south into Mexico, generally avoiding forests and treeless regions in favour of scrublands, parks and gardens, woodland edges, riparian woodlands and hedgerows.   Males may sing from tops of tall trees, or, as I’ve shown, lower down.  In this small painting, used as a cover for BirdWatcher’s Digest, I’ve illustrated the male, above, in full breeding plumage.  This features the bright, cerulean blue head that gives the bird its English name.  Lapis lazuli is a blue, metamorphic rock, often prized for its intensely dark blue colour, actually a darker blue than the bird.  The male Lazuli Bunting also has a light chestnut-red breast and white belly and wingbars.  Females are a more subdued all over brownish colour, although also showing light wingbars. 

Apart from colour, it is overall similar to an eastern species, the Indigo Bunting (P. cyanea).  The male Indigo in breeding plumage is mostly a darker blue, all over, but the two species’ ranges do overlap in some places, and they may interbreed to produce hybrids that show features of both parent species. Both species have a clear, warbling song that, once one is familiar with it, is often the best indicator of the bird’s presence.  In both species the pretty colouring of the males is dependent on lighting conditions, and when seen in silhouette they just look like some sort of small, dark sparrow.

Typically they nest is a loosely woven cup-like assembly of rootlets and grass blades and similar vegetation, hidden in a bush. Usually there are three or four eggs that are pale blue in colour.  

The painting is 12 by 9 inches, and in acrylics on compressed hardboard.  It is an homage, of sorts, to the traditional “bird illustrations” in books that I grew up with – the works of such genius artists as Fuertes, Brooks, Shortt, Sutton, Weber and others, in which the male is almost always shown above, the female below, with a suggestion of habitat, rather generalized lighting, and all markings, colour and pattern needed for identification clearly on view.  I quite love that type of painting and can’t be bothered with the distinction between what is thought of as “art”, as opposed to “illustration”.  It’s all fun to see and to do.

Barry Kent MacKay

Bird Artist, Illustrator

31 Colonel Butler Drive

Markham, ON L3P 6B6 Canada