Be Your Own Birder

Weekly Bird: Painted Bunting

The painted bunting is an unmistakable rainbow of feathers, or is it? While the males are undeniably stunning, females don’t get the same amount of attention due to their less garish plumage. But learning more about these birds can help all birders better appreciated painted buntings, both male and female!

Painted Bunting - Male

Painted Bunting – Male – Photo by cuatrok77

Painted Bunting Fun Facts
  • The painted bunting (Passerina ciris) is part of the Cardinalidae bird family, along with many colorful cousins, including the northern cardinal, scarlet tanager, dickcissel, lazuli bunting, and blue grosbeak.
  • Native American folklore explains the painted bunting’s bright colors as a choice by the Great Spirit, who was running out of colors for birds and gave the last species, the painted bunting, the leftover dabs of color from other birds.
  • There are two subspecies of painted bunting, with the eastern subspecies being very slightly brighter in color and having very slightly shorter wings than its western counterpart.
  • Unlike most male songbirds that molt into their bright, recognizable plumage within a few months of hatching and certainly by the time they’re a year old, male painted buntings don’t gain their iconic bold colors for two years after hatching.
  • Despite its color, male painted buntings can be hard to spot because these are shy birds that tend to stay in thickets, shrubby areas, and other sheltered locations where their bright colors may seem more muted.
  • These colorful birds are also called nonpariels (without equal), painted finches, and rainbow buntings. Females are called greenies in reference to their bright green plumage.
  • The territorial displays of male painted buntings are intended to show off their plumage color and include fluttering, hop-like flights, fluffing up, and bowing. Brighter, more prominent colors indicate a stronger, more dominant bird.
  • These are mostly seed-eating birds, and eat grass and flower seeds as well as seeds offered from feeders. Insects and spiders are an important source of protein during the breeding season, when hungry hatchlings need more protein for proper growth. In late summer and early fall, painted buntings may eat some berries or fruit.
  • Because of their colorful plumage and musical song, painted buntings where have been great victims of poaching into the pet market, where a single male painted bunting can cost as much as $800. While much of that poaching has been eliminated, it is still a threat to populations in Mexico, Cuba, and Central America.
  • While these birds don’t typically gather in large flocks, a group of painted buntings is colorfully known as a mural or palette. Small flocks are more common in winter.
  • Though the natural range of the painted bunting is rather small, vagrant sightings have been recorded well outside the expected range, including in Washington, Oregon, Canada, New England, and even in the middle of Brooklyn, New York. Some of these sightings may also have been escaped poached pets.
Add the Painted Bunting to Your Life List

Spring is the ideal time to see painted buntings in all their glory, since males will venture out of sheltered areas to sing from exposed perches, showing off their brilliant plumage as a signal of health and virility to potential mates. If you want to see painted buntings up close and are fortunate to live in their range, offering millet or sunflower chips is a great way to attract them to your feeders. Planting native grasses and seed-bearing flowers can provide shelter as well as food for these birds, and a discreet water source will become a popular spot for painted buntings to visit. During migrations, these birds are more common in the Lower Rio Grande Valley of south Texas, while in winter, a visit to southeastern Florida can yield painted buntings, especially at nature centers and refuges where feeding stations are well-tended.

Learn More About the Painted Bunting

Discover even more painted bunting trivia with these top resources…

Painted Bunting - Female

Painted Bunting – Female – Photo by cuatrok77

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