An “Indigo-type” Bunting was discovered in early December at Sunset Farms in Narragansett, RI and Paul L’Etoile kindly allowed me to use some images from his collection here:
The initial images seemed to show a bird more in line with Lazuli (whitish upper wingbar, warm buff tones to the throat, lack of obvious streaking and overall pallid color) than Indigo.
However, subsequent photos, and comments from observers in the field stated that the bird was streaked on the breast which favored Indigo. Clearly the exposure of the photos affected the bird’s appearance to suggest either species, but on first looks, some observers commented the bird looked good for a first-winter Lazuli (winter Indigo’s are rare).
Also, PL commented that, in the field, the flanks looked bluish, which in itself is diagnostic and identifies it not only as an Indigo but thus a male! One problem with this, is that at this time of year, male Indigo’s are much further along in their preformative moult (Peter Pyle, pers. comm). So, it should be exhibiting a much “bluer” plumage than the RI bird, which if you discount the suggestion of blue flanks, is admittedly rather more female-like.
Speaking with other observers, I found myself going back and forth on the identity of this bird, especially since some images seem to show a bird with a slighty whiter throat and fine breast-streaking – both features not exactly kosher for a Lazuli.
A perplexing scenario. Unfortunately, the interest seemed to die-off and the debate disappeared into oblivion with no clear resolve. For reference, here are a couple of reference shots of the Connecticut bird that was present at Hammonassett in the winter of 2008. An educational bird in itself.
Can the RI bird be confidently identified? Not to discount any field observations, but let’s consider (hypothetically) if these “blue” flanks are not exactly blue, but grey bases to the flank feathers then everything else would line up with the bird being a female. So the question if this is a female, what features are useful in separating Indigo and Lazuli??
- overall pallid-color, lacking warm upperpart tones
- white median covert wingbar
- warm tones to the throat in some images
- no obvious greyish malar and pale throat
- some photos show a paler, more whitish throat
- muted streaks are visible on the breast
Is it OK for first-year Lazuli’s to show fine pencil-streaking on the breast? I think a determination if the presence of streaks is an issue, or whether the shape and density is the main issue. A real puzzler, but I’m not convinced that Lazuli can be confidently ruled out based on the photos.
Thanks to Paul for capturing shots of this bird and for allowing me to post some of them here. Comments welcome!