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What Is the State Bird of Colorado?

By Christina Edwards
Updated May 17, 2024
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The lark bunting, or Calamospiza melanocorys, is the state bird of Colorado. It is a medium-sized bird, and like many other species of birds, the mature male is much more recognizable than the female. Although it is mainly black, it has a bright white patch on its wing. In the winter, however, this plumage is replaced by more inconspicuous feathers.

The state bird of Colorado is a type of sparrow. It belongs to the Emberizidae family. In the spring of 1931, the lark bunting was adopted as the official Colorado state bird.

Male lark buntings are somewhat easy to recognize. They are around 6 inches (15 centimeters) long. Generally, the females are a little smaller than the males, and they have less conspicuous plumage in the summer.

Mature males typically have black feathers in the spring and summer, during the breeding season. They also typically have a bright white patch of feathers on their wings as well. During the fall, these feathers start to change to their winter plumage, which is much more drab.

In the winter, males are mostly brown. Their backs, heads, and wings are brown for instance. Chests and underparts, however, are white or light tan. Dark brown or black streaks are also often seen on their backs and sides. Sometimes, a white patch can be seen on the wings as well.

The female state bird of Colorado looks very similar to the male in the winter. Immature males are also brown with dark streaks. Hatchlings are usually covered in soft gray down.

Nests of the state bird of Colorado are typically found on the ground. Many times, they will be built underneath shrubs. Lark buntings are also typically ground foragers. During warm months, they often prefer to eat insects, but they also eat seeds as well. Occasionally, these birds will also pursue insects, snapping them up in mid-flight.

During the summer, the state bird of Colorado can be found in prairies in many parts of the Midwestern United States. They can also be found in some southern parts of Canada. In the fall, large flocks of the state bird of Colorado will fly south. It will then spend the winter in Mexico and return to the breeding grounds in the spring.

Males usually return to the breeding grounds before the females. During their courtship ritual, several males will fly straight up into the air before gliding back down. While in flight, they will also sing a characteristic courtship song.

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Discussion Comments
By cloudel — On Feb 14, 2012

@orangey03 – I have a large field of tall weeds next to my house in Colorado, and I have often seen lark buntings eating grasshoppers. I have heard that they help control the population, which could easily spiral out of control without their help.

Grasshoppers hang out in the tall grass, where the lark buntings build their nests. I think that this is probably their favorite insect because it is so meaty and so readily available.

Grasshoppers do fly through the air for short distances, but they can't escape these birds. Lark buntings can easily catch them in flight.

It's kind of gruesome to see them eating the insects. The birds beaks are small compared to the grasshoppers' bodies, and legs are hanging out everywhere until the bird manages to swallow everything.

By orangey03 — On Feb 13, 2012

I have seen entire flocks of lark bunting swooping at insects. Bugs fill the air in the summertime, and the birds help clear out clouds of insects in one swoop.

I have also observed them eating bugs in the tall grass. So far, I haven't been able to identify exactly what type of insect they are feasting on, but I assume they aren't that particular.

Does anyone know what the lark bunting's favorite insect is? Do they have a preference, or do they just snap up whatever is walking or flying by at the moment that they are hungry?

By wavy58 — On Feb 12, 2012

I have seen both the male and female lark bunting in the summer, and they do not look like they are the same type of bird. I used to wonder why I didn't see any of those black and white birds in the winter, but now I know that the birds I was looking at were in fact once black and white.

The color of the female's feathers reminds me of rocky road ice cream. Marshmallows, nuts, and chocolate all mixed together have the same appearance as the varied plumage of this bird.

The males in summer look more like cookies and cream than rocky road. I promise that I don't fantasize about eating these birds! It's just that their unique color combinations coincide with those of my favorite kinds of ice cream.

By Perdido — On Feb 12, 2012

I often visit my cousin in Colorado during the summer, and we like to go bird watching. I have had the chance to see the state bird up close by lying low and still in a prairie.

We sought out a lark bunting nest, which they build right on top of the ground in the shelter of the high grass. We knew that the birds would be returning at some point, so we hid a few feet from the nest.

One of the birds hopped almost right up to me. I saw his silvery gray beak, which went very well with his black feathers. I think it looks much better than an orange or yellow beak would.

By SarahSon — On Feb 12, 2012

I was born and raised in Colorado and have lived in this state my whole life. Some of the most interesting facts I learned about this state was when my son was doing a local history report for school.

We became familiar with what many of the state symbols were. We already knew that the state tree of Colorado was the Blue Spruce.

This was easy to understand because these trees are abundant and plentiful all over our state. I did not know that the lark bunting was known as the official state bird until my son was working on his report.

We see these birds in our yard especially during the early spring and summer months. We have other birds that are certainly more colorful than this bird is, but the lark bunting has been a part of our state history for a long time.

By John57 — On Feb 11, 2012

We go camping and hiking in Colorado almost every year. It is not unusual to see lark bunting birds during our time there.

The males are much easier to spot with their black color and snowy white feathers and patches. The females are not as easy to spot, but I have often seen them together.

I have read that these birds used to much more plentiful than they are now. I still see several of them every year, but their population has declined in recent years.

Having spent enough time observing them, I am also familiar with their song. I will usually know they are around by hearing them before I actually see them.

I am always curious how each state chooses what their state bird is. Even though the state bird for Colorado is of the sparrow family, it is an interesting bird.

When I am at home, I am not usually too excited when the sparrows eat most of the food that are at the bird feeders.

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