The Painted Bunting, (passerina ciris), is primarily a summer visitor to the US with two distinct populations - a Western population that breeds in Texas and the surrounding states and an Eastern population that breeds on the Eastern coast from Florida to North Carolina. The Western population winters in Mexico, the Eastern in Florida, Cuba and the Bahamas. The two populations are considered sub-species (pallidior in the West and ciris in the East) but are similar in other respects, with Western birds being paler and slightly brighter. Note the Western population molt on their wintering grounds in Mexico whereas the Eastern population on their breeding grounds before migrating.
Typical habitat is bushy arable land, degraded forest and forest edges, shrublands, hedgerows, briar patches and swampy thickets. Chosen food varies summer to winter – being almost entirely insects in summer becoming much more seed based in winter. Typically, they forage on the ground and in taller grass.
The Painted Bunting typically builds a cup shaped nest (made of grass roots and bark strips with a lining of moss and hair) in bushes and low trees. They lay 3-5 blue colored eggs which are incubated for about 11 days by the female only. Note that due to habitat loss, Painted Bunting numbers are declining, (over 55% in the last 30 years), with the global population estimated at just over 3 million birds. This means it is considered near threatened and needs some conservation effort to preserve this beautiful bird.
The male painted bunting is the most colorful bird in the US and is almost unmistakable. He has a bright blue head, red breast and eye ring and a lime green back. The tail and wings are black with a red rump. The female is less distinctive but still very beautiful, with green upperparts and yellow-green below. Wings and tail are dark. The Painted Buntings’ song is loud, clear and very musical but somewhat variable. Its call is a metallic chip. Life expectancy is short at 3-5 years with the oldest birds being 11-12 years old.
- The French name for Painted Bunting is “nonpareil” or “without equal” which is a reference to its truly spectacular plumage.
- It is often kept as a cage bird today in Mexico and in the past thousands were shipped to Europe in the 1800s for this purpose.
- The Painted Bunting species name "ceris" comes from a Greek myth. In mythology Scylla who was turned into a bird "keiris." Other myths include that the painted bunting was the last bird to be painted by the Gods who had run out of paint so they used the little of each color they had left!
- The collective noun for these birds is a "palette" or "mural" for obvious reasons.