Painted Bunting, beautiful Song Bird
This gorgeous little bird rivals the tropical birds of plumage and our fabulous hummingbirds.
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?