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Here’s yet another sparrow — or sparrow-like bird — that calls southern Arizona its home during at least part of the year. This is a Lark Bunting.
This bird is a prairie dweller. In summer its breeding range includes most of the United States’ western plains on the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains. In winter it sojourns in the valleys and plains of southern Arizona and in Mexico.
Lark Buntings usually show up in flocks, sometimes numbering as many as a few dozen individuals. They are ground foragers. In southern Arizona I sometimes see them poking around in the grasses and ground cover at the edges of roads. That’s where I found this individual, it was part of a flock of these birds that I found on the shoulder of a rural road.
The individual that I photographed either is a female or a male in non-breeding plumage. In summer the males transform into solid black birds with white shoulder patches on their wings. Generally, we do not see Lark Buntings in breeding plumage although I have caught fleeting glimpses of one or two of these birds on an occasion or two.
I sometimes wonder what is the difference between a bunting and a sparrow? I’ve not found a satisfactory answer to that question. Buntings look like sparrows and vice versa and the field guides generally lump all of these birds under the general heading “sparrows.” All species of buntings and sparrows show unique characteristics but the generic name “bunting” probably is a matter of custom rather than a way of scientifically distinguishing a group of birds.
I consider myself fairly lucky to have gotten this image. Lark Buntings are quite timid. A flock of these birds will spook at the slightest provocation and it just takes one individual member of the flock deciding to flee to trigger an escape urge in the entire flock.
Image made with a Canon 5Div, 400mm f4 DO II lens+1.4x telextender, M setting (auto ISO), ISO 1250, f7.1 @ 1/2000.