Painted Bunting

Passerina ciris

Male painted buntings are the most spectacularly colored of all North American songbirds, with their bold combination of red, blue, green, and yellow feathers. They are also a species at risk, with populations declining significantly over the past few decades.


An adult male Painted Bunting is arguably the most distinctive songbird in North America, with the combination of a deep blue head, red underparts, a green back, and a red rump. Females and immatures are a uniform, bright yellow-green overall, with a pale eyering. Though they are basically unpatterned, their overall color is greener and brighter than similar songbirds.

Although both males and females have a metallic "chip" call, only male birds sing. Its sweet rambling song is easily heard and very distinctive.


Painted Buntings breed in semi-open habitats with scattered shrubs or trees. Breeding birds at Harris Neck NWR prefer scrub communities, palmetto thickets, and the edges of maritime hammocks. The two breeding populations (eastern and western) have separate wintering grounds, though both gravitate toward high grass, shrubby overgrown pasture, and thickets. Eastern breeders winter in shrubby or grassy habitats in Florida and the northern Caribbean. Birds from the south-central U.S. winter in similar habitats in southern Mexico and Central America.


Painted Buntings eat seeds for most of the year, switching to mostly insects in the breeding season. They primarily forage on the ground, but may fly up to grab a plant stem and drag it to the ground, holding it in place with one foot while eating the seeds. During the breeding season they catch grasshoppers, weevils and other beetles, caterpillars, bugs, spiders, snails, wasps, and flies. In addition to ground foraging, in the breeding season they also forage in marshes and in trees, sometimes over 30 feet off the ground. The buntings may pull invertebrates from spiderwebs, or even dive straight through a web to steal a spider’s prey.


Males vigorously defend territories of about 3 acres, fighting other males by pecking, grappling, and striking each other with their wings. Their fights end with lost feathers, wounds, eye damage, and sometimes death. A male may also dive at and hit a flying female, driving her to the ground and pulling at her feathers. When courting, however, the male goes to great lengths to ingratiate himself with his prospective mate. Among other displays, he spreads his feathers like a miniature male turkey, while the female pecks at the ground. The species is mostly monogamous, but occasionally two females will nest on one male’s territory. Though severely territorial during the breeding season, Painted Buntings may form small flocks on the wintering grounds, often joining other seed-eating species.


Painted Buntings are still fairly common, but their populations have been dropping for several decades. The North American Breeding Bird Survey estimated an average decline of 3.2 percent per year between 1966 and 1995—suggesting the population declined by 62 percent in that time. The eastern population is suffering from habitat loss and degradation as humans destroy swampy thickets and woodland edges for urban development. In addition to facing habitat destruction, Painted Buntings are popular cage birds and are often trapped on their wintering grounds and sold illegally.

Facts About Painted Bunting

Protection Status
Species at risk due to declining numbers in response to illegal trade and habitat loss and degradation
Size and Shape
Medium-sized finches with stubby, thick, seed-eating bills
The oldest Painted Bunting on record was at least 11 years and 10 months old when it was caught and released by a Texas bird bander in 2011.