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Conservation Corner: Painted bunting

The painted bunting (Passerina ciris) is one of the most strikingly patterned of all species of North American birds.

The genus name is Latin meaning “sparrow‑like” and the species name comes from a fictional bird in Greek mythology.

The painted bunting is approximately 14 cm or 5.5 inches in length. The male is often described as the most beautiful songbird in North America.

Its beautiful dark blue head and red eye ring, green back, red rump and underparts make it easy to identify. The female is yellow‑green, with dark wings and tail.

The song of the painted bunting is a unique, variable group of fast whistled phrases.

Their striking colors and warbled song have made them a popular cage bird in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.

Like other buntings, it favors hedgerows, thickets, and clearings with brushy areas in the breeding season, generally staying low and keeping hidden.

Painted buntings are mostly monogamous and are solitary or in pairs during the breeding season. The breeding season begins in early May, peaks later that month until early June and extends into late July. The nest is usually located in a tree or shrub 3 to 6 feet above the ground.

The nest is cup shaped and constructed from grasses, leaves, and hair. The female lays 3 to 4 eggs that she incubates for 11 to 12 days.

The young fledge 8 to 9 days after hatching. The male usually feeds the first batch of young as the female prepares to nest again.

The painted bunting forages by searching for food on the ground and in low vegetation.

The diet consists of seeds, insects, and caterpillars, with insects being predominant during the breeding season.

The painted bunting is only found in the southern portions of the United States during the breeding season, and mostly in the Southeast, in the coastal region from North Carolina to the Florida panhandle and from Mississippi to Texas north to Arkansas.

Wintering birds occur in the

southern peninsula of Florida and rarely eastern coastal Louisiana.

The winter range for most of this species includes the Caribbean and central Mexico south to southern Panama.

In the Southeast, the population has been declining sharply in recent decades and there is concern about its survival.

Although the exact cause of its decline is not known, it’s most likely due to loss of habitat.

James L. Cummins is executive director of Wildlife Mississippi, a non-profit, conservation organization founded to conserve, restore, and enhance fish, wildlife, and plant resources throughout Mississippi. Their web site is www.wildlifemiss.org.