Painted Buntings Ready to Head North

A few weeks ago, a male Painted Bunting got stuck in a shed behind my house on the ranch. It came through an open window, but could not get out, and likely would have roasted to death in the stuffy building. He was easily picked up on a window sill, and we kept him for a few minutes to snap a few photos. This was by far the most colorful bird I’ve ever seen up close, and this was the first time I’ve seen one on the ranch. I’ve seen “green” Painted Buntings before (including one at Lake Okeechobee in early January) , but hadn’t yet seen a male. The male seems like a completely different species with its blue head, bright red breast and eye ring, and neon green back. Females and first year males are a drab greenish-yellow and are referred to as “greenies.”

Note bright red breast

Note bright blue head and green feathers

Painted Buntings (Passerina cirus) are members of the family Cardinalidae, which includes cardinals, grosbeaks, the Dickcissel (and now also North Americas tanagers). They prefer habitats of low open scrub, scattered trees, or hedgerows. There are two distinct populations of Painted Buntings. The eastern population winters in south-central Florida and will be making their way up the coast to Georgia and the Carolinas to breed in the coming weeks. The other breeding population is found in the south central United States and will also soon be migrating north from Central and South America.

After finding this bird, I started doing some research on Painted Buntings, and found PBOT, the Painted Bunting Observer Team. They do a lot of hard work in monitoring the eastern population on both its wintering and breeding grounds, and are great advocates of citizen science. Their website is just loaded with great information on Painted Buntings! (for example, adult males head north sooner than “greenies). I got in touch with Leah Fuller, the PBOT Program Coordinator, and she informed me that Lake Placid is actually right in the middle of the Painted Bunting wintering range in Florida! She also told me that loss of shrub-scrub habitat is a big part of the reason that the eastern population is declining, and it is very important to educate people about the value of this habitat. Despite being relatively shy birds, Leah says they do frequent backyard tube bird feeders and their favorite seed is white millet, or any basic mixture with millet in it. The millet sticks that you can buy at pet stores are also a favorite of theirs.  Make sure to submit your Painted Bunting observations to both PBOT and eBird.

Thanks, Leah!