The Painted Bunting

The Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) is a species of bird in the Cardinal family. The Painted Bunting was one of the many species originally described by Linnaeus in his eighteenth century work Systema Naturae.

There are four recognized subspecies of the Painted Bunting. The male Painted Bunting is often described as the most beautiful bird in North America. Its beautiful colors, dark blue head, green back, red rump and underparts, make it easy to identify.

Their striking colors and warbled song have made them a popular cage bird in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. The breeding range includes Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia and Louisiana. The Greek myth of Scylla who turned into the bird keiris, inspired the name ceris for the beautiful painted bunting.

A colorful painted bunting ~

A group of painted buntings are collectively known as a “mural” and a “palette” of buntings. Painted buntings are part of a genus including the gorgeous blue indigo and lazuli buntings. Sometimes the flocks may become associated with those of the Indigo buntings who are close relatives and interbreeding may occur. They are also similar to Lazuli buntings.

Though shy, painted buntings are very vocal throughout the year. Calls include high pitched warbling, chirps and chips. Painted Buntings breed in semi-open habitats with scattered shrubs or trees. They feed mostly on seeds and insects foraging on the ground or in the branches of bushes, thickets and trees.

They sometimes have more than one mate and will fight other males, sometimes to the death, to defend their territory. The Painted Buntings breed in the spring and early summer. They have 3-5 white eggs, finely speckled with chestnut-red and purple. The brood is fed by the male while the female starts the next brood. They may have up to 4 broods a year.

A male painted bunting in Florida ~

The painted bunting is one of the most rapidly declining songbirds in the eastern United States. Florida breeding and winter season surveys show an astounding 4-6 percent annual decrease in this species’ numbers. In some areas, counts have fallen from the hundreds to a mere handful.

The Painted Bunting is classified as Near Threatened (NT), is close to qualifying for or is likely to qualify for a threatened category in the near future. The exact causes for Painted Bunting’s decline are not known, but they are believed to include habitat loss, cowbird parasitism, and trapping for the pet trade on its wintering grounds.

This bird has a French nickname. The male’s lovely plumage earned the Painted Bunting the popular name “nonpareil,” French for “without equal.” It also made it a popular cagebird until federal laws gave it protection.