Painted Buntings breed in semi-open habitats with scattered shrubs or trees. Birds from the south-central U.S. breeding population use abandoned farms, strips of woodland between overgrown fields, brushy roadsides or streamsides, and patches of grasses, weeds, and wildflowers. Individuals of the coastal Southeast population breed in scrub communities, wooded back dunes, palmetto thickets, edges of maritime hammocks, hedges, yards, fallow fields, and old citrus groves. The two breeding populations also have separate wintering grounds, though both gravitate toward high grass, shrubby overgrown pasture, and thickets. Eastern breeders winter in shrubby or grassy habitats in Florida and the northern Caribbean. Birds from the south-central U.S. winter in similar habitats in southern Mexico and Central America. Back to top
Painted Buntings eat seeds for most of the year, switching to mostly insects in the breeding season. They forage on the ground for seeds of bristle grass, pigweed, wood sorrel, spurge, panic grass, St. John’s wort, sedge, dock, pine, rose, wheat, or fig. They may fly up to grab a plant stem and drag it to the ground, holding it in place with one foot while eating the seeds. During the breeding season they catch grasshoppers, weevils and other beetles, caterpillars, bugs, spiders, snails, wasps, and flies. In addition to ground foraging, in the breeding season they also forage in marshes and in trees, sometimes over 30 feet off the ground. The buntings may pull invertebrates from spiderwebs, or even dive straight through a web to steal a spider’s prey.Back to top
Both members of a pair search through dense foliage for nest sites. They usually choose a spot 3–6 feet off the ground—sometimes as high as 50 feet when there is no low vegetation—with nearby perches and open feeding grounds. Common nest plants include Spanish moss, mulberry, mesquite, elm, Osage-orange, greenbrier, oak, myrtle, and pine.
In as little as 2 days, the female builds a well-constructed nest that is firmly attached to a supporting plant. Forming an inner cup 2 inches wide and 1.5 inches deep, she weaves together some combination of weed stems, leaf skeletons, bark strips, twigs, rootlets, grasses, and sometimes tissue paper or rag scraps. She binds the materials with cobwebs and sometimes lines the nest with horsehair.
|Clutch Size:||3-4 eggs|
|Number of Broods:||1-3 broods|
|Egg Length:||0.7-0.8 in (1.8-2.1 cm)|
|Egg Width:||0.6-0.6 in (1.4-1.5 cm)|
|Incubation Period:||11-12 days|
|Nestling Period:||9 days|
|Egg Description:||Grayish or pale bluish white, with fine speckles of brown and gray.|
|Condition at Hatching:||Helpless and nearly naked, with some light down, weighing less than a tenth of an ounce.|
Males vigorously defend territories of about 3 acres, fighting other males by pecking, grappling, and striking each other with their wings. Their fights end with lost feathers, wounds, eye damage, and sometimes death. A male may also dive at and hit a flying female, driving her to the ground and pulling at her feathers. When courting, however, the male goes to great lengths to ingratiate himself with his prospective mate. Among other displays, he spreads his feathers like a miniature male turkey, while the female pecks at the ground. The species is mostly monogamous, but occasionally two females will nest on one male’s territory. Though severely territorial during the breeding season, Painted Buntings may form small flocks on the wintering grounds, often joining other seed-eating species.Back to top
Painted Buntings are still fairly common, but populations have been dropping approximately 0.8% per year for a cumulative decline of about 33% between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 15 million and rates them 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of relatively low conservation concern. Eastern U.S. populations suffer from habitat loss and degradation as humans destroy swampy thickets and woodland edges for urban development. Habitats in Arizona and northwestern Mexico are also important sites for conservation. Loss of riverside thickets in those areas may be hurting western U.S. populations. In addition to facing habitat destruction, Painted Buntings are popular cage birds and are often trapped and sold illegally on their wintering grounds in Southern Mexico and Central America.Back to top
Lowther, Peter E., Scott M. Lanyon and Christopher W. Thompson. (2015). Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.
Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.
Partners in Flight (2019). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2019.
Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.
Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.
Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.