One of Florida’s most colorful and beautiful birds is the Painted Bunting. Please note that Buntings can also be found breeding in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Louisiana, and northern Mexico. As most birds in nature, the male is the more colorful. One assumes the brighter his colors, the more attractive he is to his female cohorts.
This writing is based on observations of the two males and as many as six females who appeared in our Miami backyard beginning in early October and persisted through March. While observing the behavior of our Buntings, one has to note how secretive and shy the male is, as if he shows too much of himself for too long, his presence could be spotted by a predator and he will be easily picked off for someone’s lunch.
Our Buntings seem to have perfected this method of operation –- at least in our Miami backyard. His tactics are simple and sound -- a technique that keeps the male hidden until he is sure it is safe to show himself. He usually travels with one, two or as many as four females -- a harem of lovely ladies. He will send one of the females out to a feeder or other food source while he remains hidden in the bushes.
She will go to our feeder and start eating the safflower seed used as the main fodder for our backyard birds. (We have learned that the squirrels hate safflower seeds, but most of the bird seed-eaters like them.) Soon another female will join her and then another. Then, when the male sees the way is clear, he’ll join them on the feeder. But even as they eat, they are extremely wary. They are constantly searching for enemies – predators – that can easily take them. Painted Buntings eat seeds, caterpillars, spiders and other insects.
His colors are gorgeous – yet the colors seem to shift from bright reds, like this one above, to less vibrant colors. These shifts in colorization probably come from diet, age of the bird and molting, with newer feathers being less bright and deepening as the bird ages. The female and juvenile Painted Buntings plumage is green and yellow-green, serving as camouflage. Adult painted buntings can measure 12–14 cm (4.7–5.5 in) in length, span 21–23 cm (8.3–9.1 in) across the wings and weigh 13–19 g (0.46–0.67 oz).
This female Painted Bunting was very curious about the camera being used. Every time the shutter release was pressed, the Nikon “chirped” and she would cock her head and listen…
The adult female is distinctive, as it is one of the only truly green birds native to the United States.
While observing the Painted Bunting from the rear, one sees the myriad of colors – blues, reds, yellows, orange, black – that nature has blessed him with as his contribution to our Backyard Aviary. One hopes this lovely little bird continues to thrive. But humanity is destroying his habitat and his numbers are declining. One hopes that bird lovers continue to provide seed, clean water and habitat in their back yards to improve this impending crisis.
All text and photographs by J V O Weaver