FLORIDA WELCOMES PAINTED BUNTINGS FOR ANOTHER WINTER

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted a blog!  I’ve had some ill health over the last month that kept me from everything but the basics.  I really appreciate everyone keeping up the conversation by commenting on the blog, and I urge you to check the most recent comments on the last blog – for example, our friend in south Florida has an important question I’d like you all to weigh in on.  In fact, there has been quite a bit of conversation about seed… I know white millet is getting more expensive and harder to find, so if you have any advice for PBOTers, please chime in!  --- To catch everyone up, we had a pretty uneventful (if early) migration season until the aftermath of “Superstorm Sandy” – it was likely the winds from that storm that transported a male to the backyard of an experienced northern Indiana birder, who reported his startling but thrilling sighting to PBOT!  On Thanksgiving Day, one of our friends on the North Carolina coast reported a sighting, and I suspect it was another (or the same??) storm-diverted Painted Bunting making his way back south.  We’re glad he recognized (or knew of??) a friendly rest stop along the way!  Now that December has arrived, our buntings are settling in nicely to their usual winter homes – but many Florida friends have reported them taking advantage of natural food sources (insects and wild seeds), which may keep them from appearing at your feeder for a bit longer.  Never fear – by January or February they should be visiting your feeders regularly.  More updates to come… but for now, thanks again for all your comments on the blog, Facebook, and Flickr!

Is anyone else's birds late this season? I am in Ft. Pierce, Fl. and have only one male, and two greens so far this season.

I purchased some hulled white millet from WholeFoods and when the feeder was half empty I added the hulled millet. To my surprise only the females are taking to it. The males are no longer sitting on the top part of the feeder but choosing the bottom white millet which is un-hulled. To be on the safe side I'm going to get a second feeder for the hulled millet and keep the original feeder with the feed store white millet. Sure don't want to lose the males.

PS - seems like the females are a little braver when things change.
-Diane Pilbeam from Lehigh Acres Fl.

We have been siting these beautiful birds in our location, Miami Lakes, FL for the past 3 years. This year 1/2013, we noticed a female had a band, thicker green on top with a smaller yellow on the bottom. Does anyone know more info about this band?

Hi Burt - You may have one of our banded Painted Buntings, but we normally put 2 bands on each leg... is it possible there were bands on the other leg? We'd love to know more about this sighting, if you'd like to email me at paintedbuntings@gmail.com. And everyone else, we'll keep you updated about Burt's sighting, especially if it's one of "ours"! - Leah, PBOT Program Coordinator

Hello All, I posted a few times in Oct. & Nov. about buntings in my back yard, am new to birding,
and was so excited to have the buntings arrive here in Boca Raton, Florida.I have 4 or 5 greenies and
one beautiful male. On the white millet: I bought a 28 oz. package of hulled organic white millet by Arrowhead Mills at Whole Foods for $3.98 and put it in my caged feeder, which is just for the buntings. They are at that feeder the most, but I have another feeder in a different location that has
a mix I do of golden safflower, unhulled white millet, sunflower hearts, and nyjer. My cardinal family eats there and the buntings also frequent it. I like to buy the seed separate and mix myself, because some of the ready mixes you buy at Petsmart contain seed that most birds don't like or waste or contains stuff that might attract squirrels. I have done alot of research on the different birds and seeds they prefer. I recently added the nyjer (thistle) to the one feeder in hopes of attracting goldfinches which are supposed to be in my area now for winter, but they haven't come yet. I have become so attached to the buntings and love to watch them all frolic together in the birdbath, also have a small hanging waterbowl that they use strictly for drinking, as it's very dry here in south florida in winter. Can someone tell me when I must face the time that the buntings will leave my yard for their native / summer home, is it April or do they stay till early May? I dread that day!
By the way, some of you speak of banded buntings, guess I'd need birding binoculars to detect those? I use regular binocs occasionaly to watch them, but haven't noticed any bands.
Leah: thanks for your email a couple of weeks ago on questions I had that you answered and sorry you've been ill, hope it's all behind you now!

I'm happy to report all is well here with my four greens and two males. The males were only occasional visitors until the end of December but are now around all day, every day.

I can answer Patti's question about South Florida's departure dates. Last year my male buntings were last seen on April 15 and my greens were last seen on April 25. The previous year I last saw them on April 18 (I didn't record separate dates for males and greens that year).

Hi Patti - Thanks for the update! It sounds like you have been doing all your research and your birds are definitely benefiting from it! The buntings usually leave Florida in mid-April (males leave first to reclaim their breeding territory), but maybe some of our friends who are in your area could share their experience. Your question about spotting banded birds is a common and important one - the bands are hard to spot and distinguishing the colors can be difficult, especially on an active bird! We use a number of bright, colorful bands, hoping that a flash of pink or citrus green will catch your eye... and if you do spot color, the best way to confirm that your bird is banded (and what color the bands are) is to take a digital photo. Zoom in as close as you can on the bird's legs, because even with a blurry photo, you should be able to distinguish the different colors. Some colors are tough to spot (black and gray can blend in with the bird's legs), so if you have trouble, email the photo to me - I am so familiar with our band colors, I can usually determine the combination. Remember that we use a silver metal band on every bird, and a split band (2 colors on one band) of red and white (or blue and pink) for South Carolina birds and red and yellow for North Carolina, plus 2 other solid color bands (4 bands in total). The arrangement of these bands is unique to each bird, so determining which color is above the other and which colors are on which leg allows us to determine exactly which of our banded beauties you spotted! I should also say that spotting one of our banded buntings in the winter is rare - buntings disperse over a large range in the winter (including Cuba and Mexico) and there are a comparatively small number of banded birds. Thanks again for the update and for taking such good care of your buntings for all of us! -- Leah, PBOT Program Coordinator

The buntings are back here in South Florida! They come here about this time every year and stay in my back yard til spring. My backyard backs into a State of Florida Prreserve with thick Palmetto coverage and long needle pines. Buntings are so beautiful, I look forward to seeing them every year.

Hi everyone,

I was happy to find that our local Big Lots carries a blend of seed made by Scott that contains mostly white millet and safflower with a few sunflower seeds mixed in. It is relatively inexpensive and good quality. The green bunting has found it and loves it!
Happy birding :)

Good to have you back, Leah.
While in Maryland this past summer we stopped at a Wild Bird store to check out feeders and other stuff and found they had loose and bagged white millet! We picked up 75 lbs for a little over $50. We usually go through about 50 lbs each season so we'll have plenty till we can get back north. In previous years we bought seed from Hancock Farm in Dade City, FL but by the time we paid shipping 50 lbs cost over $67. If anyone is local to Dade City, they can save a lot by picking up seed in person. We like un-hulled millet because it's cheaper and our feeders are at the edge of the woods and the dropped hulls disappear into the leaf and pine-needle ground cover.

Petsmart sells a number of seed that contain white millet. The one we buy does not contain sunflower seeds (Morning Song wild finch food), as I add safflower seeds for the cardinals. All of our feeders...four for the buntings...keep the big birds out. We have five males and nine greenies so far this season, and they're around all the time. As mentioned before, we keep a separate dish of seed next to the birdbath, which isn't near the feeders. That's how we get our counts, when both areas are active. The buntings love the birdbath. Have actually had up to 13 buntings in the feeders at once, which is quite neat.
I really believe buntings like feeders made for smaller birds, and the more feeders, the more buntings.

Beaufort, NC ... Any thoughts on where the buntings I'm seeing are from? This is the third year we have been blessed with them. If they are true to form they will stay until spring as they have the past 2 years. I have not seen any that are banded.

Hi Bruce - I am so sorry I didn't notice your sightings were coming from Beaufort last winter, or I would have contacted you! This is very unusual, although not unheard of... Painted Buntings almost always spend the winter months in Florida, Cuba, or Mexico. However, we have heard of a number of overwintering PBs along coastal NC and SC over the years - I guess some birds just decide they've got all the comforts right there and why bother migrating? And obviously your buntings are doing just fine, if this is their third winter with you! It certainly helps them to have a well-stocked feeder and dense (very dense for winter protection, please!) vegetation to roost and hide in. The key to their comfort is YOU though - keeping them well-fed, and providing warmed water if natural water sources freeze (unusual for Beaufort, but just in case). I don't know where they're coming from - you are in the northern extent of their summer range, so it's not like they're coming from much further north. It's a mystery - maybe we'll have to break our research protocol (!) and come band them, just to see where they show up in the summer! Thanks for reporting your sightings of these rebel buntings! -- Leah, PBOT Program Coordinator

Thanks for the reply :). There are a couple of overgrown lots nearby, I keep the feeders filled and have a fountain that I keep from freezing that they drink from. All the PBs had to do was show up. I'm happy to host these PBs over the winter !!

Yes, the white millet has been steadily going up in price the last few years but it's still holding for less than $1.00 a pound in our area, Brevard County, Fl. I figure not a bad price for what I enjoy seeing in my yard.

Other alternatives for supplying PB food is Florida Native Plants. I've actually decreased the seed purchase by having almost all native plants. They especially relish:

1. Lizard tail (Saururus cernuus). It's a free sprawling type shrub and works great on the fence in back of the feeders.That way the birds can get l food and protection in addition to the feeders being right there. It grows in all conditions even though the literature indicates it likes wet soil. Wet or dry it will grow.
2. Walter's viburnum (Viburnum obovatum). It has beautiful tiny white flowers in the spring time, so many that it looks totally white, but continues to have flowers year round.
3. Lyreleaf sage (Salvia) lyrata). A wonderful late winter to late spring blooming wildflower. Being that it blooms in the later part of the winter the PB's just go to town on it.
4. Red sage (Salvia coccinea). Another wildflower that they enjoy as do the Ruby-throated hummingbirds. This flower booms year round and reseeds itself readily.

Hope this provides some ideas for adding to the comfort of our beautiful winter visitors.

Leslie

I just bought 50lbs at a feed store for $22.00, check out feed stores in your areas. I have seen up to 9 birds at my feeders this year. Stuart FL