Often called ‘Nonpareil’ which means ‘unrivaled’, or rainbow birds, the painted bunting bird (Passerina ciris) is a small bird native to North America and South America, where it resides in woodlands and brush areas. It’s known for its bright red color, its fat body, and its spotted chest and throat.
Painted bunting birds are largely herbivorous, eating seeds, berries, worms, insects, and the occasional larger insect or spider. The species has been rated as Near Threatened (NT) by the IUCN Red List due to its widespread range throughout Central and South America.
Its habitat includes open fields, gardens, brushy edges of forests, and thickets along streams. The painted bunting bird is an insectivore that uses its long bill to catch butterflies and other flying insects in mid-air as it flies between trees and shrubs in its habitat.
The Painted Bunting bird is a migratory songbird that is mainly found in the eastern half of North America. The males have brightly colored plumage on their head, chest, and back which makes them one of the most visible birds during spring and summer.
They will also eat insects and other small invertebrates such as spiders, snails, beetles, caterpillars, and so on. When they are eating they use their short, thick bill to hammer away at these animals until they break open or die.
The scientific name of the painted bunting bird is Passerina ciris
Painted bunting range and habitat
In addition to roadsides, brush, towns, and gardens, painted bunting birds also inhabit woodland edges. At all times, it prefers semi-open areas with relatively low growth. This species breeds near thickets, hedgerows, and woodland edges, as well as undergrowth in open woods. In the tropics, it winters in similar habitats as well as scrubland and secondary growth.
Painted bunting bird size and weight
The Painted Bunting bird is an average-sized bird, with a length of 12 to 15 cm (4.7 to 6 inches) and a weight of 13 to 20 grams (0.46 to 0.71 oz). Their wingspan is around 21 to 23 cm (8.3 to 9.1 inches).
Feathers and plumage
One of the most noticeable characteristics of the Painted Bunting is its attractive plumage. As far as color is concerned, the painted bunting male has the color palette of a box of crayons. The head is bright blue, the eye ring is orange, and the breasts and belly are red.
Despite its green back, it seems to have a mix of purple, green and blue color on its wings.
An emerald green color is what makes the Painted Bunting female and juvenile so attractive. During egg incubation and flying training, they use this color to hide in vegetation.
The process of molting is an essential part of a bird’s life cycle. Once a year, a new set of feathers replace the old one. Molting is one way birds can adjust to their changing environment. Molting is a natural, annual event in which bird sheds their old feathers and replaces them with new ones.
During the process, they shed all of their flight feathers in preparation for the replacement feathers. Once all of these have been replaced, they will have full capacity to fly again. The new feathers are not fully grown when the bird begins to molt so it is safer for them during this time period.
It usually takes painted bunting birds two days to build a nest. Nests are typically attached very securely to their hosts despite having been built in a hasty manner. Nests are always built between 3 and 6 feet above ground in dense foliage.
Diet and foraging
Painter buntings eat seeds, preferring native grasses such as switchgrass, most of the year. Nyjer thistle seed and white millet seed are two small seeds that they will eat from feeders. To supplement their energy stores, they eat protein-rich insects during the breeding season.
Painted bunting song and vocal behavior
The painted bunting bird sings in short, sweet, and high-pitched phrases lasting about two seconds each. Males may sing nine to ten songs in one minute while they are establishing territorial boundaries during the spring.
Countersinging refers to the act of neighboring males singing back and forth at each other to establish their territory.
Painted Bunting call is also a soft plik sound.
Breeding season begins in mid-March and lasts until early August, with peaks in mid-May and mid-July.
Nests are built around 50 cm to 3 meters above ground in bushes and branches of trees, usually 50 cm to 3 meters above the ground. Grass stems, rootlets, bark strips, and grass roots form the nest’s cup shape. Moss and hair line the interior. Females alone are responsible for building the nest.
Three to four eggs with dense dark markings are laid by female painted bunting bird each year. Incubation occurs for about 11 to 12 days, and only the female is responsible for the process. The female and sometimes the male feed the altricial chicks. It takes them 12 to 14 days to fledge after they hatch. After fledging, the parents may provide care for about three weeks.
In the course of a season, painted bunting female produces two to three broods, sometimes more, separated by one month.
Birds such as the Brown-headed Cowbird and Bronzed Cowbird frequently parasitize their nests.
Captive painted bunting birds can live for over 10 years, although most wild buntings live for about half of that life expectancy.
Painted bunting migration and movements
The Painted bunting birds, like many other migratory birds, is able to detect the differences in light intensity as they approach the equator and as they pass over it. As they near the equator, less light will enter through their eyes, and because of this, their eyelids need to be closed more often.
Conversely, during migrations further north for the winter, a higher amount of light will reach their eyes through a long day with less darkness, and therefore, the bunting needs to open its eyes more often.
Diseases and threats
The major threat to the painted bunting bird is the loss of habitat. The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) placed the Painted Bunting on its Threatened list in 1991. In the spring, mowing pastures poses a problem because birds can’t get out of the way. Mowing too late in the season will also destroy nests, eggs, and chicks, which are ground-nesting species.
It has been estimated that there are 4.5 million Painted bunting birds in the world, according to an American Bird Conservancy resource. 80% of the species’ breeding population is in the U.S. during part of the year, while 51% is in Mexico, according to the All About Birds resource.
There has been a steady decline in painted bunting counts recently, and therefore, the bird was listed on the IUCN Red List as Near Threatened (NT).
Conservation and management
The painted bunting bird is one of the most threatened migratory bird species in North America. They have declined by more than 90% since the 1950s, due to habitat loss and competition from more invasive species like the House Sparrow.
One management strategy to help this bird recover is to maintain a high diversity of vegetation on its wintering grounds. Another approach that has been suggested is to reduce or eliminate grazing on summer nesting habitats during egg-laying and incubation periods.
The Migratory Bird Treaty Act makes it illegal to take birds alive without a permit. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service protects birds through the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which prohibits hunting without a permit or trading without a permit for those less common migratory birds listed in CITES Appendix I or II.
The MBTA can also be used to prosecute individuals who are suspected of killing large numbers of native birds illegally.
The MBTA does not prohibit private ownership but does regulate how the animals are traded internationally. In order to obtain an import permit, there must be an export permit that was issued by another country first; these permits typically last between one and five years at a time; sometimes they may be extended if warranted.