Painted Bunting

 Painted Bunting

©Darlene B. Durham 2014

 

TGO Nature Center, Nature, Education, Birds, Painted Bunting

Male Painted Bunting
Photo Courtesy of Jack Juba

 

We occasionally see this little songbird at TGO.  It is a very shy bird but Jack and Sandy Juba on Plantation Drive and Henry and Audrey Pisarz on Lake Drive have had success in drawing them to their yards.  The photo above is courtesy of Jack Juba.  Since we have not had such luck attracting them to our feeders, we go to the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge to view these birds as they frequent the bird feeder at the Visitors’ Center.

The painted bunting is a medium size finch. It is easy to distinguish the male painted bunting from the female and juvenile birds.  The gloriously colored male painted bunting has a blue head with red underparts and a green back. It is the only bird in the United States that has a blue head with the red underparts.  The female is special in her own right as she is one of the only true green birds in the U.S.  The female and immature birds are an overall greenish yellow color which is great camouflage in their habitat.  A group of these colorful birds are referred to as a “palette” or “mural” of buntings.

An adult bird measures approximately 4.7 to 5.1 inches long.  Only the male painted bunting sings – the females does not.  If you see a green painted bunting singing, it is a young male which is probably about two years old.

A male painted bunting’s territory can range to about three acres.  He will steadfastly defend his territory by fighting other males especially during breeding season.  The fights between two male birds consist of pecking, grappling and using their wings to strike the body of the other bird.  The resulting fights can cause wounds, lost feathers, damage to a bird’s eyes or even death.  An intruding female might be greeted with a male who dives at her and hits her until she falls to the ground and then he pulls her feathers. When it is not breeding season, especially on wintering grounds, the painted bunting may join other seed eating species in small flocks.

The painted bunting prefers a habitat that provides them with cover since they are so shy.  They prefer thickets, brushy tangles, woodland edges, hedgerows and shrubby vegetation. At the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge Visitors’ Center, the feeders which attract these beautiful birds are located right next to vegetation and the birds will quickly retreat into the bushes for cover.

The painted bunting’s diet consists of seed and insects. They have a thick and stubby bill that allows them to easily eat seed.  They will usually eat on the ground in dense cover or they can be seen at seed feeders.  At times, they will fly to a plant and grab a stem dragging it to the ground to hold it down with one of its feet to eat the seeds.

To attract a female, the male painted bunting uses various displays, one of which he will spread his feathers much like a male turkey.  Painted buntings are primarily monogamous; however, there have been cases where two females will nest within a single male’s territory.  Painted bunting breeding occurs in Atlantic coastal counties from northern Brevard County northward to the Georgia border.

Both the male and female painted bunting will search in dense foliage for nesting sites.  They prefer a site which is three to six feet above ground that has perches and open feeding grounds in the vicinity. If there is no low vegetation, they will build a nest at a higher elevation sometimes as high as 50 feet.

The female is the nest builder and she can construct a nest in as little as two days.  The nest will be attached to the end of branches usually in Spanish moss. The inner cup of the nest measures approximately two inches wide by one and a half inches deep.  She will use combinations of grasses, sticks, bark strips, weed stems, leaf skeletons, rootlets and occasionally rag scraps and tissue paper to build her nest.  Cobwebs are used to bind the nest construction materials.  If available, she may line the nest with horsehair.

The female will lay between three and four eggs with an incubation period of 11 to 12 days.  The eggs coloration is grayish or a pale blue white.  They have brown and gray speckles.  The newly hatched chicks are tiny – weighing less than 1/10 of an ounce.  They are nearly naked and are helpless.

One of the threats to the newly hatched painted bunting is the brown-headed cowbird.  Instead of building its own nest, the lazy cowbird will lay its eggs in the nests of the painted buntings’ and other songbirds’ nests.  The baby cowbirds grow faster than the baby painted buntings; therefore, they get the majority share of the food so the painted buntings will usually starve to death or the cowbirds will oust them out of the nest.

The declining population of painted buntings has been a concern for many years.  In addition to the cowbird parasitism listed previously, loss of habitat due to urban development and the capture of these beautiful birds for the caged bird industry are contributing factors.  Even with conservationists’ efforts to stop the illegal trade of the painted buntings as exotic pets, they are still sold illegally in Mexico, Central American, the Caribbean and, to a lesser extent, Florida.

If you have not had the opportunity to see these special little birds here at TGO, it is worth the drive to the Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge Visitors’ Center to view them.   The photos below were taken at the Visitors’ Center (click on the photos to enlarge).  Of course, you could ask the Jubas or the Pisarzs if you can camp out in their backyard to catch a glimpse of these beautiful little birds!

 

 

TGO Nature Center, Nature, Education, Birds, Painted Bunting

Male and Female Painted Bunting

 

Unlike some birds, it is easy to tell the male from the female painted bunting.

 

TGO Nature Center, Nature, Education, Birds, Painted Bunting

Male and Female Painted Bunting

 

The photo above shows a view of the back of the male and female painted bunting.

 

TGO Nature Center, Nature, Education, Birds, Painted Bunting

Male Painted Bunting

 

The male painted bunting is a gloriously colored bird!

 

TGO Nature Center, Nature, Education, Birds, Painted Bunting

Back of Male Painted Bunting

 

The photo above shows all the colors on a male painted bunting’s back.  Click on the photo to enlarge and then zoom in and notice the red ring around his eye.

 

TGO, Nature, Center, Education,  Nature Center, Titusville, Florida, Wildlife, Bird, Painted Bunting

Male Painted Bunting
Photo Courtesy of Nikki Duthil

 

Notice the bee in the above photo that caught the attention of this male painted bunting.

 

TGO, Nature, Center, Education,  Nature Center, Titusville, Florida, Wildlife, Bird, Painted Bunting

Painted Buntings
Photo Courtesy of Nikki Duthil

 

You probably can’t take your eyes off the beautiful bird feeder and bird bath Nikki Duthil made but do check out the painted buntings.

 

TGO Nature Center – “Living in Harmony with Nature

Contact Us

To reserve the meeting room, contact:

Josiah Monk at Recreation Services for reservations on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings and Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.

Loretta Anne’ for all other times.