Painted Bunting

painted buntingPasserina ciris

The Painted Bunting, perhaps North America’s most colorful bird, is currently recognized by the American Ornithologists’ Union (1998) as a single species. Recent research, summarized by Lowther et al. (1999), indicates two species, Eastern Painted-Bunting (P. ciris), breeding along the southeast Atlantic Coast and Western Painted-Bunting (P. pallidior), breeding in the south-central United States and northeast Mexico, are apparently involved. The two forms have different breeding and winter ranges and molt and migration strategies (Thompson 1991).

DISTRIBUTION. During the 1987-1992 field work for the TBBA project, atlasers found concentrations of breeding records in all regions of Texas except the High Plains and Trans-Pecos (see Lockwood and Freeman [2004] for a map of regions).

The map below is similar to the map derived from 168 Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) routes in Texas. The BBS map indicates a relative abundance of 10-30 buntings per route per year for all regions of the state except the Pineywwods, Rolling Plains and Trans-Pecos where relative abundances were much lower. A BBS route on the Edwards Plateau and one on the Coastal Sand Plain had the two highest relative abundances of any routes in the United States at 39 and 36 buntings, respectively (Price et al. 1995, Sauer et al. 2005).

The BBS map also shows Texas and Oklahoma, with 72 routes on which Painted Buntings were detected, are the only states with relative abundances as high as 10-30 buntings per route. Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi had densities mostly in the 1-3 range, as did North Carolina and Florida. Parts of the coastal plains of Georgia and South Carolina reached relative abundances of 3-10 buntings per route (Sauer et al. 2005). The TBBA and BBS maps appear to rppresent the breeding range in Texas of this species more accurately than those of Oberholser (1974), Lowther et al. (1999) and Lockwood and Freeman (2004). The population in Texas winters in parts of Mexico and Central America (Howell and Webb 1995).

SEASONAL OCCURRENCE. Painted Buntings generally return to Texas from March 5 to May 22 with most arriving from April to mid-May. The breeding season extends from late March to late August, based on egg dates from April 27 to August 19 and TBBA confirmed records from late March to late July. Southbound migrants leave between June 30 and December 7 with peak movement between late July and mid-October (Oberholser 1974, Lockwood and Freeman 2004).

BREEDING HABITAT. In Texas Painted Buntings breed from near sea level to 1400 m (4700 ft) in semi-open country with scattered bushes and trees and also along roadsides or stream-sides with tall brush and patches of grasses and forbs. The species is scarce where trees are sparse or too dense (Oberholser 1974). Nesting territories in Oklahoma contain a tree or shrub for the nest, song perches and a grassy area with shrubs for feeding (Parmelee 1959).

Nests are built in low vegetation at an average of a meter (3 ft; range 0.3-2.3 m [1-7.5 ft]). Nests are placed close to the main stem and are partially covered above. Mulberry, mesquite, elm and osage orange are commonly used for nest sites as well as 27 other plant species. The female builds the nest in as little as 2 days. It is a neat, thin-walled cup of plant fibers, dry leaves and forb stems bound together with spider silk (Lowther et al. 1999).

The female usually lays 3-4 grayish white or pale bluish white eggs, with reddish markings; she incubates for 11-12 days. The nestlings leave the nest as soon as 9 days after hatching to cling to a branch or tumble to the ground and scramble or fly back up. They are feed by the female, who may build a new nest at the same time, until the male takes over fledgling care when she begins to lay a second clutch. Nest parasitism by Brown-headed (Molothrus ater) and Bronzed (M. aeneus) cowbirds has been reported with rates as high as 40%; parasitized nests are frequently deserted. Some Painted Bunting males have more than one mate (Harrison 1979, Lowther et al. 1999).

STATUS. Painted Bunting is an uncommon to common summer resident throughout most of this state (Lockwood and Freeman 2004). Texas appears to contain more nesting Painted Buntings than any other state, having 168 of the 359 BBS routes on which this species has been detected in the United States in the past 40 years. Only Oklahoma approaches Texas in bunting abundance. Data from the Texas BBS routes provide a statistically significant population trend of +1.2% annual change for the period 1980-2005 (Sauer et al. 2005).

Recent high survivorship and reporo- ductive success in Texas Painted Buntings is associated with high winter rainfall in the state and high summer rainfall in northwest Mexico where these birds undergo post-breeding molt (Institute for Bird Populations, data, 2006 Annual Report).  Text by Robert C. Tweit (2007)

PABULiterature cited.

Harrison, H. H. 1979. A field guide to western birds’ nests. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA.
Howell, S. N. G. and S. Webb. 1995. A guide to the birds of Mexico and northern Central America. Oxford University Press, New York.

Lockwood, M. W. and B. Freeman. 2004. The TOS handbook of Texas birds. Texas A&M University Press, College Station.

Lowther, P. E., S. E. Lanyon and C. W. Thompson. 1999. Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris). In The birds of North America, No. 398 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Oberholser, H. C. 1974. The bird life of Texas, University of Texas Press, Austin.

Parmelee, D. F. 1959. The breeding behavior of Painted Bunting in southern Oklahoma. Bird-Banding  30:1-18.

Price, J., S. Droege, and A. Price. 1995. The summer atlas of North American birds. Academic Press, New York.

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, and J. Fallon. 2005. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2005. Version 6.2 2006. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel MD <>

Thompson, C. W. 1991. Is the Painted Bunting actually two species? Problems determining species limits between allopatric populations.Condor 93: 987-1000.

Comments are closed.