Passerina cirispainted bunting

Geographic Range

Painted bunting breeding range is divided into a western and an eastern population.The western population ranges from Kansas south to Louisiana and Texas. The eastern population is limited to the coastal regions of North Carolina south to northern Florida. The western population winters primarily in Mexico and as far south as Panama. The eastern populations winter in southern Florida, including the Florida Keys, and are occasionally seen to winter in the Bahamas and Cuba (Lowther et al. 1999).


The western population's breeding habitat consists of partially open areas scattered with brush, riparian thickets and shrubbery. The eastern population's breeding habitat consists of scrub communities and the margins of maritime hammocks.

Wintering habitat is similar for both the western and eastern populations, consisting of tropical forest margins and tropical savanna.

Foraging habitat is the same as either their breeding or wintering habitat. During migration foraging can occur in mixed flocks with indigo buntings

(Kaufmann 1996, Lowther et al. 1999).

Physical Description

Painted buntings are small brightly colored birds. They are 12 to 13cm in length with an average body weight of 16 grams. Adult birds are dimorphic, the males being brightly colored. The head and nape of the males is blue, the back is bronze-green and the rump and underparts are red.The females are less brilliantly colored having dark greenish upperparts and yellow-green underparts.The wings and tail of both the male and female are dark brown or black contrasting with the rest of the body. The feet and legs, eyes and bill of both sexes are dark in color. The feet and legs are dull to dusky brown, the eyes are dark brown to hazel and the bill is dark brown to blackish in color. Plumage of juvenile birds resembles that of the adult female. The males differentiate from the females during their second year where they begin to exhibit the blue feathers on their head (Lowther et al. 1999).

  • Range mass
    13 to 19 g
    0.46 to 0.67 oz


The breeding season begins in late April through to early August peaking mid-May through to mid-July. Males usually arrive at the breeding territory one week before the females. Pairs are usually monogamous with rare instances of polygyny. Nests are located in low lying vegetation. The nests are built by the females and woven into the surrounding vegetation for strength. The females raise two broods per season laying between 3 and 4 eggs per brood. The eggs are incubated for a period of 11 days until the altricial young hatch. Parental care of the young is solely the female's responsibility until fledging occurs 12-14 days later . Time between fledging in the first nest to the second nest is around 30 days (Kaufman 1996; Lowther et al. 1999).

  • Average eggs per season
  • Average time to hatching
    11 days



Painted buntings are a social species where males are involved in vocal exchanges lasting for 30 seconds or more. The song serves as a means for self advertisement and/or territory defense during the mating season when the males become highly territorial. Young male buntings tend to wander until their own breeding territory can be established.

Painted buntings use a variety of visual displays (upright display, body-fluff display, bow display and wing-quiver display) especially during agonistic behavior and courtship displays during the mating season. Other forms of display are incorporated into unique flight patterns such as butterfly flight (slow,undulating flight with deep wing beats) and moth flight (slow descending flight that can incorporate the wing quiver display). The majority of the displays are exhibited by the males.

Main predators of painted buntings are snakes, primarily the coachwhip snake (Masticophis flagellum), common king snake (Lampropeltis getulus), racer (Coluber constrictor) and the rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta). Predatory response includes alarm calls and frantic fluttering.

Painted buntings are nocturnal, short to medium distant migrants. Fall migration runs from the end of July to mid October and the return trip in spring begins early April and lasts until mid May. The western populations undergo a mid-migrant molt in southern Arizona and northern Mexico (outside of both thier breeding and wintering habitat) before reaching thier wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America. The eastern population molts prior to migration and travels directly to their wintering grounds in southern Florida, the Bahamas and Cuba.

(Lowther et al. 1999)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Painted buntings are diurnal foragers, mainly feeding on grass seeds (Panicum spp., Amaranthus spp., Oxalis spp., Euphorbia spp. and Carex spp.) when in the wintering habitat and arthropods (grasshoppers[Orthoptera], caterpillars [Lepidoptera larvae], spiders [Arachnida] and snails [Gastropoda]) in their breeding habitat. The majority of food is foraged from the ground with some seeds being taken directly from the grass stalk. Painted buntings have also been observed stealing prey caught in spider webs (Kaufmann 1996; Lowther et al. 1999).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Painted buntings are highly desired as caged birds due to their brightly colored plumage. Painted buntings are trapped and sold in large numbers in Central America and exported from New Orleans , by ship, to Europe where they are sold for greatly inflated prices. (Lowther et al. 1999)

Conservation Status

Overall there has been a general decline in painted bunting numbers since the mid 1960's. Their desirability as caged birds and loss of habitat is the primary cause of their decline. Painted Buntings are still trapped and sold in Central America and transported over-seas by ship. Habitat destruction constitutes the main reason for their decline. Development of coastal swamp thickets and woodland edges has significantly reduced their eastern coastal habitats. The loss of mid-migratory staging areas (riparian habitat) in southwest USA and in northwest Mexico have contributed to the western population decline. To a lesser extent brood parasitism by cowbirds (Molothrus ) contributes to the Painted bunting's decline. The painted bunting is currently listed on Partners in Flight Watchlist as a species of special concern (Kaufmann 1996, Lowther et al. 1999).

Painted buntings are listed as near-threatened by the IUCN, and they are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.

Other Comments

Painted buntings are also known by the French as Passerin nonpareil meaning without equal (Lowther et al. 1999). "According to an American Indian legend, when the great spirit was giving all the birds thier colors, he ran short of dye so he gave the very last one, the painted bunting, a coat of many colors made from dabs of whatever was left." (Pope 1991)


Doug Stefanyk (author), University of Alberta, Cindy Paszkowski (editor), University of Alberta.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


Kaufmann, K. 1996. Lives of North American Birds.. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Lowther, P., S. Lanyon, C. Thompson. 1999. Passerina ciris (Painted Bunting). A Poole, F Gill, eds. The Birds of North America, No. 398. Washington, D.C.: The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union.

Lowther, P., S. Lanyon, C. Thompson. 1999. The Birds of North America. The American Ornithologists' Union, 398: 1-21.

Pope, J. 1991. Book of North American Birds. Pleasantville, New York/Montreal: The Readers Digest Association, Inc.