State Bird of Colorado – A Songster of the Rocky Mountains!

The state bird of Colorado - Lark Bunting

Colorado is a state located in the western United States. This state is known as the “land of many colors” because of its diverse landscape of rivers, mountains, plains, and deserts.

All this natural diversity offers habitats for a wide range of wildlife, especially bird species. Over 400 bird species are found in different parts of Colorado.

Now, which one among these is designated as the state bird? It’s the species striking black and white plumage — the lark bunting. Because of the white wing patch, this bird is also known as the white-winged bunting. 

In this article, we will look closer at the state bird of Colorado, the lark bunting. Besides uncovering many fascinating facts about this remarkable species, we will also focus on some basic bird stuff.

That includes its natural habitat, dietary habits, historical background, current state, etc.

7 Interesting Facts About Colorado’s State Bird: The Lark Bunting

As you delve deeper into the details, the lark bunting becomes increasingly captivating and intriguing.

Because of its interesting behavior and unique resourcefulness, the lark bunting is an intriguing subject for study and observation.

A male lark bunting perched on a wooden post

Here are some little-known facts about this bird species –

1. They Are a Migratory Species

Species that fly long distances to avoid adverse weather and in search of better food sources and suitable habitats are known as migratory species.

The lark bunting is one of those species. Usually, you’ll find these birds in Colorado only during their breeding season.

In September, they fly south and reside in the southern states. They are seen in Texas, Arizona, and northern Mexico during that time.

The main reason behind their migration is to avoid winter. They can’t survive unless they migrate because they don’t have any special physical features to deal with the cold.

2. It’s Neither a Lark nor a Bunting!

An interesting fact about the Lark Bunting is that they aren’t categorized as lark or bunting. It’s actually an American sparrow.

This specie belongs to the Passerellidae family. Specific characteristics of this bird are pretty similar to the other sparrow species. It’s one of those sparrow species that are recognized as songbirds.

However, this species is unique in its appearance and behavior. While the other sparrow species usually have grey and brown plumage, this species appears in black plumage with white wing patches.

3. This Bird Has a Unique Way of Attracting Partner

Different bird species have their own way of attracting partners. Most species use their colourful appearance, overall plumage, and unique dance moves to attract females.

But for this songbird species, the technique is a bit different. It’s called “courtship flight” or “acrobatic courtship dance”.

The male lark buntings fly about 50 feet facing the sky, and then, with a couple of spins, they come downwards. While doing so, they also sing mating songs.

The males have two songs for impressing female partners, each lasting about 8 seconds.

The color of their black plumage is also an essential factor to win over females. The more concentrated it is, the better!

4. They Can Change the Color of Their Plumage

Sexual dimorphism is quite apparent in the lark bunting species. That means that male and female individuals have different appearances and can be distinguished quite easily.

Males are covered in black plumage with white patches on the wings. On the other hand, the females have grey-brown plumage.

Interestingly, the males can change the color of their plumage to grey-brown and look just like the female individuals.

This happens in winter when attracting females is no longer necessary. It helps them blend in with the rest of the flock and avoid catching the attention of predators.

5. They Have Melodious Songs & Calls

Lark buntings are known for their melodious songs. Their songs sound similar to the canary songbird species.

The males have two songs that birdwatchers, and twitchers can recognize easily. The songs are composed with tweets and short whistles. And as you know, they are used for attracting partners.

Besides songs, this species also have some unique calls for different purposes. Here are a few –

  • “hwee” – it’s the sound that males and females make while flying.
  • “whert” – a sound made to alert the other partner and the babies about their arrival.
  • “buzz” – a sound made by the younglings when they are hungry.

6. Single Males Become Nest Helpers

The number of female lark buntings is significantly more than the males. As a result, many male birds remain single during mating and breeding season.

Females can choose different partners but usually in different breeding seasons. So, they use the single males as “nest helpers”. 

“Nest helpers” are commonly seen in loose colonies. They usually bring food for the babies and help the parents to feed them.

The lark bunting species are usually protective of their nest and young ones but don’t mind a little extra help.

7. Unique Scientific Classification

The scientific name of the lark bunting species is Calamospiza melanocorys.

An interesting and quite rare fact is, there is no other member of the genus Calamospiza other than the lark bunting. The species is monotypic. There are only about 39 cases like this one.

Here is the complete scientific classification of lark bunting- 

  • Kingdom – Animalia
  • Phylum – Chordata
  • Class – Aves
  • Order – Passeriformes
  • Family – Passerellidae
  • Genus – Calamospiza
  • Species – C. melanocorys

When Did Lark Bunting Become a State Symbol of Colorado?

The Lark bunting species has been reigning as the state bird of Centennial State for more than 90 years.

However, the history and events behind choosing this bird as the state bird was more complex than any other to this date! So, what really happened?

As a standard method of choosing the state bird, a student ballot was held to choose the Colorado state bird. The meadowlark received the highest number of votes (about 111,914).

Surprisingly enough, the lark bunting wasn’t even on the ballot list. However, the decision was nullified.

The final debate was among the last three species – the mountain bluebird, the meadowlark, and the lark bunting.

In the 1931 legislative session, Colorado Audubon Society president Roy Langdon represented the lark bunting. He convinced most of the legislature why it should be adopted as the state bird.

Lark Bunting gained the state bird title on On April 29, 1931. On that day, the Colorado State Legislature passed Senate Bill No. 251.

The legislation reads, “The lark bunting, scientifically known as calamospiza melancholy teenager, is at this moment made and declared the state bird of Colorado.”

Legislation Source & Information:

  • 2018 Colorado Revised Statutes
  • Title 24 – Government – State
  • State History, Archives, and Emblems
  • Article 80 – State History, Archives, and Emblems
  • Part 9 – State Emblems and Symbols
  • § 24-80-910. Lark bunting
  • Universal Citation: CO Rev Stat § 24-80-910 (2018)

What’s the Habitat of Lark Bunting?

Lark bunting species prefer taller habitats with prairie vegetation instead of bare ground. To name a few, there are four-winged saltbush, red triple-awn grass, green-plumed rabbitbrush, etc.

Meadows and areas covered with sagebrush are also liked by this species as summer habitats.

For breeding nests, they choose someplace surrounded by cacti or small shrubs. That offers decent protection against many predators.

Besides that, their nests are also found in blue grama grass, wheatgrass, and needle-and-thread grass.

What Are the Food Habits of Lark Bunting?

The lark bunting is an omnivore bird species. It means this species can consume both insects and plants. However, they indeed prefer insects in their primary diet.

The diet chart includes beetles, grasshoppers, bees, spiders, and ants. Two-thirds of their summer diet consists of these insects. 

This diet changes a lot during the winter. As there are fewer insects to prey on in winter, they have to depend on seeds, fruits, leaves, and grains to meet their nutrition requirements. 

This species isn’t dependent on direct sources of water. They can also survive periods of drought. Whatever moisture they consume from insects is enough for them to get by. 

What’s the Current State of Lark Bunting?

The IUCN Red List classifies Lark Bunting as a species of “Least Concern” or LC. That means there is no need for the conservation of this species.

There are more than 10 000 000 individuals of this species. However, the population is notably decreasing every year. 

Between 1966 and 2003, a 2.5% decline of this species was observed per year in Colorado. According to Partners in Flight, an 86% decline in population has been observed since 1970!

This organization designates the lark bunting as a “Common Bird in Steep Decline”.

Wrap Up

According to Roy Langdon’s speech in the 1931 legislative session, the lark bunting is “the bird that meets all the qualifications for the effective role of state bird”.

I guess we all can agree with Langdon on this one. The unique behavior, survival ability, and resourcefulness make this species unique.

Photo of author

Written and Fact-checked by David Neff

Author at BirdBonica

David is an expert birder and bird parent with in-depth knowledge of birds. He has years of experience observing birds in their natural habitats, studying their diets, behavior, and more. (Learn more about David here...)

Leave a Comment

BirdBonica logo - A bird icon and BirdBonica text

The ultimate resource for pet bird owners, birdwatchers, backyard birders, and bird enthusiasts. does not intend to provide veterinary advice. The content here is provided solely for informational purposes on an “as is” basis at user’s sole risk. Please consult a licensed veterinarian in your area for pet medical advice.