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Painted Bunting

Passerina ciris ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: CARDINALIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Near Threatened

With their vivid fusion of blue, green, yellow, and red, male Painted Buntings seem to have flown straight out of a child’s coloring book. Females and immatures are a distinctive bright green with a pale eyering. These fairly common finches breed in the coastal Southeast and in the south-central U.S., where they often come to feeders. They are often caught and sold illegally as cage birds, particularly in Mexico and the Caribbean, a practice that puts pressure on their breeding populations.

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Keys to identification Help

Finchlike
Finchlike
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Painted Buntings are medium-sized finches with stubby, thick, seed-eating bills.

  • Color Pattern

    Males are stunningly colored with blue heads, red underparts, and green backs. Females and immatures are a uniform, bright yellow-green overall, with a pale eyering. Though they are basically unpatterned, their overall color is greener and brighter than similar songbirds.

  • Behavior

    Painted Buntings forage on the ground in dense cover, among grasses, or at seed feeders. Sometimes they venture out into grass to forage on seeds. On migration they form loose flocks with other seed-eating birds. Breeding males often perch out in the open to sing their jumbled, sweet songs.

  • Habitat

    Painted Buntings breed in dense brush, often adjacent to thick, grassy areas or woodland edges. During migration and winter they favor dense, weedy habitats as well as the understory of semi-open forest.

Range Map Help

Painted Bunting Range Map
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Field MarksHelp

  • Male

    Painted Bunting

    Male
    • Male is unmistakable with rainbow-colored plumage
    • Short, conical silver/gray bill
    • Narrow red eye-ring
    • © Cleber Ferreira, Winter Garden, Florida, December 2011
  • Adult female

    Painted Bunting

    Adult female
    • Small bunting with gray conical bill
    • Distinctive lime green plumage overall
    • Narrow white eye-ring
    • © Cleber Ferreira, Winter Garden, Florida, April 2011
  • Male

    Painted Bunting

    Male
    • Small bunting with gray conical bill
    • Gaudy, multicolored plumage
    • © Cleber Ferreira, Winter Garden, Florida, April 2011
  • Adult female

    Painted Bunting

    Adult female
    • Small bunting with conical gray bill
    • Lime green plumage with paler yellow on belly
    • Thin white eye-ring
    • © Cleber Ferreira, Winter Park, Florida, December 2011
  • Male

    Painted Bunting

    Male
    • Unmistakable plumage
    • Stout, conical gray bill
    • Narrow red eye-ring
    • © Danny Bales, February 2007
  • Juvenile

    Painted Bunting

    Juvenile
    • Similar to adult female but duller and browner
    • Conical bill longer than in other buntings
    • Narrow white eye-ring
    • © Stephen Pollard, Block Creek Natural Area, Kendall County, Texas, July 2010

Similar Species

  • Female

    Indigo Bunting

    Female
    • Similar to female Painted Bunting but tawnier brown overall
    • Fine streaks on breast
    • Pale throat
    • © Joey Herron, Mountain Mines Road, Fairmont, West Virginia, May 2011
  • Female

    Lazuli Bunting

    Female
    • Similar to female Painted Bunting but drabber grayish-brown overall
    • Pale wing-bars
    • Buffy orange wash on breast
    • © Cameron Rognan, Truckee, Sierra Nevada, California, July 2009

Similar Species

Though colorful adult male Painted Buntings are unmistakable, females and immature males can be harder. The key is to notice the distinctive green color of Painted Buntings. Female and immature Indigo Buntings, Lazuli Buntings, and Varied Buntings are all buff-gray or brownish in coloration, not green. Lesser Goldfinches can show this pale green body color, but always have whitish wingbars.

Backyard Tips

Painted Buntings eat seeds, particularly after the breeding season is over, starting in midsummer. They’re more likely to visit a bird feeder in a yard with low, dense vegetation.

Find This Bird

In migration and winter, search for Painted Buntings by targeting sources of seeds such as weedy fields or bird feeders. In the summer, cruise through secondary growth or edge habitats with dense understory and listen for the species’ metallic chip call or the sweet, rambling song of a male. Painted Buntings spend a lot of time hidden in dense habitat so patience might be necessary; however, the wait will be worth it when you finally spot this gem, surely one of North America’s finest songbirds.

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