We sequenced the complete mitochondrial cytochrome-b gene (1,143 nucleotides) for representatives of each species in the cardinalid genera Passerina (6 species), Guiraca (1 species), and Cyanocompsa (3 species), and used a variety of phylogenetic methods to address relationships within and among genera. We determined that Passerina, as presently recognized, is paraphyletic. Lazuli Bunting (P. amoena) is sister to the much larger Blue Grosbeak (Guiraca caerulea). Indigo Bunting (P. cyanea) and Lazuli Bunting are not sister taxa as generally thought. In all weighted parsimony trees and for the gamma-corrected HKY tree, Indigo Bunting is the sister of two sister groups, a "blue" (Lazuli Bunting and Blue Grosbeak) and a "painted" (Rosita's Bunting [P. rositae], Orange-breasted Bunting [P. leclancherii], Varied Bunting [P. versicolor], and Painted Bunting [P. ciris]) clade. The latter two species form a highly supported sister pair of relatively more recent origin. Uncorrected (p) distances for ingroup (Passerina and Guiraca) taxa range from 3.0% (P. versicolor-P. ciris) to 7.6% (P. cyanea-P. leclancherii) and average 6.5% overall. Assuming a molecular clock, a bunting "radiation" between 4.1 and 7.3 Mya yielded four lineages. This timing is consistent with fossil evidence and coincides with a late-Miocene cooling during which a variety of western grassland habitats evolved. A reduction in size at that time may have allowed buntings to exploit that new food resource (grass seeds). We speculate that the Blue Grosbeak subsequently gained large size and widespread distribution as a result of ecological character displacement.