Painted Bunting, beautiful Song Bird

This gorgeous little bird rivals the tropical birds of plumage and our fabulous hummingbirds.

Painted bunting at our backyard feeder
Painted bunting at our backyard feeder

We have the privilege of having a songbird called the Painted Bunting come to call every spring. (We live on the south shore of Lake Travis, west of Austin, Texas.)

Apparently, the Painted Buntings are super cautious. The one who visits our feeder is male; I know this because of his brilliant plumage. I have never seen his mate or his babies; I imagine he has a family, but I don’t know for sure. Painted Buntings hide in the leaves of the trees and bushes even when they’re singing, unlike our state bird, the Mockingbird, who likes to sit on our telephone wires and sing. The Painted Bunting has a beautiful voice.

His visits are brief; he partakes of seeds from our bird feeder and then departs. The only way I can take a photo is through the window glass. If I open the back door, he is gone in the blink of an eye.

I read that Painted Buntings are common in parts of Texas. Ours comes in May. If we are lucky, we might see him two-three times during the summer and then not again until the following May. In the fall they migrate south to Mexico, Panama and a number of Caribbean islands.

Even though Painted Buntings are fairly common birds in Texas they are rarely seen. Although primarily seed eaters, Painted Buntings seldom come to backyard feeders because they are not comfortable being so far from the cover of the dense brush. They also feed on insects, spiders, and caterpillars. The Painted Bunting sightings here inspired me to do a little research on him.

First, where does the name come from? I found that Bunting as a surname is of Old French origin, meaning "good little pet," a term of endearment for a little child. My mother sang this nursery song to all of us children in turn, “Bye baby Bunting, Daddy's gone a hunting, to get a rabbit skin, to wrap his baby Bunting in." I also found that the German word Bunt means Colorful! Language is so fascinating.

What a perfect name for a Painted Bunting! They are adorable, shy, plump, and beautifully colored. Male Painted Buntings have red breasts and red bottoms, lime green and lemon yellow backs, dark blue heads and dark wings. Females and juveniles are greenish above and buff below.

As adorable as they are, I found that they have a dark side. Male Painted Buntings are highly territorial and aggressive and fights between males sometimes result in death!

The male Painted Bunting was once a very popular caged bird, and is still illegally trapped and sold. Breeding Bird Survey data show a steady decline in overall population since 1965. Males are targets of trappers for the cage-bird trade, especially in Mexico. The Painted Bunting is listed as a special concern on the Partners in Flight WatchList.

On the East Coast where habitat is being lost to development, their populations are declining. Their breeding range includes Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, Florida, and Northern Mexico.

Painted buntings are part of a genus including the gorgeous blue indigo and lazuli buntings. Wouldn’t I love to see one of those! The genus also includes reed buntings, yellow buntings, and snow buntings.

We love our Painted Bunting. When one of us spots him on the bird feeder the entire family is alerted and we run to the windows to observe and admire.

For more information, visit the Painted Bunting website.

Update 6/9/11 -- Just saw the painted bunting today for the first time this year. It was wonderful to see such a flash of brilliant color in our backyard again.

Update 7/2/11 -- The painted bunting is still in the area. It's so hot and dry; we are experiencing a drought (again) and every morning and afternoon I put water and ice cubes in the bird baths in the back yard.

Update 5/25/12 -- He's been back for the past two weeks. Wonderful; a flash of brilliant color and gone. So cautious.

Update September 2, 2015: Just saw the painted bunting -- again, a flash, and gone.

Here's a book recommendation from a friend: "I am reading The Big Year, by Mark Obmascik. It is true story of a group of men who are top notch birders. The big year is when they take a whole year and see how many birds they can see. Apparently it is quite the sport. And people spend thousands of $ going all over N America looking for birds. It sounds like the book would be boring but I am finding it fascinating. The men are all such characters, from a retired multi millionaire to a divorced computer programmer trying to work a full time job and do all the travel on the cheap. You learn lots about birds, geography and human behavior."

Is this the most beautiful bird in North America?

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Comments 24 comments

Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Beautiful bird! Great Hub! voted up.

Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 6 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Thank you! They are beautiful, aren't they?

Tom_Radford profile image

Tom_Radford 6 years ago from London

Wow... birds in the US are so different to those in the UK. That actually looks like it's been painted. Charming little creature. Great hub.

Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 6 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Yes, this little bird is charming. Tom, we saw the most colorful birds when we camped out near the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park. Brilliant reds and yellows. This little one takes the prize for color in North American birds.

tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 6 years ago from South Africa

Beautiful bird, beautiful Hub! Thanks for sharing. I love birds but we don't have any here that are as "painted" looking as this oen!

Love and peace


Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 6 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Thanks, Tony! Yes, itsn't this little bird amazing? Love and peace to you too.

James A Watkins profile image

James A Watkins 6 years ago from Chicago

Truly a beautiful bird. I'd never heard of it. Thank you for the education.

Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 6 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Thanks for reading, James.

betsuz profile image

betsuz 5 years ago from California

Wow! I didn't know about this bird. Very beautiful! I live in Southern California, I am wondering if I could ever see one when the migrate to Mexico. I will keep an eye out for one. :)

StephanieBCrosby profile image

StephanieBCrosby 5 years ago from New Jersey

You are so lucky to have such a beautiful bird visit. I laughed when you said you can only get a picture from the window. The same thing happens to us when we try to open our back door and sneak closer. But we have been lucky enough to have two types of hawks literally land on our doorstep. So we have some rare up-close pictures of them.

Gypsy Willow profile image

Gypsy Willow 4 years ago from Lake Tahoe Nevada USA , Wales UK and Taupo New Zealand

Wow! Such a colorful bird. Thank you for telling us about it so thoroughly.

Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 4 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Hi, Gypsy Willow! Thanks for visiting.

foysal8990 profile image

foysal8990 4 years ago

I have read your Painted Bunting article and i also enjoyed it........

Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 4 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Thank you for your visit and comment.

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laketravisz1 4 years ago

We live on Lake Travis, both painted male and females bunting are here everyday. Been watching for three weeks.

Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 4 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

That's so cool! Aren't they beautiful?

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laketravisz1 4 years ago

Both the females and males have such vibrant colors. We can just watch for hours as they come to visit our bird feeders.

Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 4 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

What kind of seed do they seem to prefer?

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laketravisz1 4 years ago

I heard they love millet. I have been using Wagnor's 4 Season Wild Bird Food. Which seems to be the favorite we have the Painted Bunting, Cardinals, Mexican White Tail Doves, Chickadees, Blue Jays come visit. I think what also helps is we have started to put more vegetation around the feeders.

Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 4 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

Yes! We have been feeding millet and sunflower seeds. I have also been putting out ice water in the bird baths and they love it! Do you live north of the lake, or south? We live south, on Bee Creek Road.

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laketravisz1 4 years ago

We live in Volente on Booth Circle off of 2769 just north of the Dam and Oasis. Carlos and Charlies is across the lake from us.

Randy Godwin profile image

Randy Godwin 3 years ago from Southern Georgia

I've never observed a Painted Bunting in my area of SE Ga., but I have been fortunate to see a very few Indigo males in my backyard visiting my feeder. Well written and informative article.

Silva Hayes profile image

Silva Hayes 3 years ago from Spicewood, Texas Author

I've only seen pictures of the Indigo. Thanks for your comments, Randy.

Xadrian 2 years ago

At last, soenome comes up with the "right" answer!

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