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Select a category of questions listed below about Painted Buntings

What does a Painted Bunting look like?

What does a Painted Bunting look like?

The Painted Bunting ( Passerina ciris) is a neotropical migratory song bird that breeds in two distinct populations: one in the southeastern United States, the other in the Midwest. Males are unmistakable with bright blue heads, red eye rings, and red, green and yellow bodies. Females and immature males are almost entirely green to greenish-yellow (we refer to all green Painted Buntings as "green birds"). Juveniles (fledglings) are an overall drab- to olive-brown with buffy under-parts for about two weeks after leaving the nest.


Do female Painted Buntings sing?

No, only the male Painted Bunting sings! If you spot a singing green Painted Bunting, then it is a young male - most likely a second year male trying his best to attract a mate.

What does a Painted Bunting song sound like?

They have a sweet and delicate song. Here's a video of a male singing taken by our friend Paul Beardsley.

Breeding and Migration

Where do Painted Buntings breed (nest)?

Painted Buntings are found in the United States in the spring and summer, and migrate south to spend their winters in Cuba, Mexico, and Central America. Florida is the only state that consistently has a breeding population in the spring and summer (in northeast Florida) and a wintering population (in central and south Florida). See the maps of the current Painted Bunting breeding range, reproduced here with permission of the authors from: Sykes Jr, P. W., & Holzman, S. (2005). Current range of the eastern population of Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris). Part 1: Breeding. North American Birds, 59:4-17. Note the much smaller Altlantic population in orange compared to the Midwestern population in green. The Altantic population does extend as a thin line along the coast of North Carolina until about Morehead City.

I have Painted Buntings in the spring and summer. Where do they go in the winter?

Painted Buntings migrate south between mid-October and mid-November. Atlantic Painted Buntings fly to central and southern Florida, Cuba or the Yucatan penisula of Mexico. Western Painted Buntings winter in Mexico and Central America.

I have Painted Buntings in the winter. Where do they go in the summer?

Painted Buntings migrate north around late March to mid-April. Atlantic Painted Buntings spend their summers in northeast Florida, Georgia, and North and South Carolina. Western Painted Buntings breed in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana.

Attracting to Your Feeder

I live in the Painted Bunting's range, but have never seen one. How do I attract them to my feeder?

Attracting Painted Buntings is often an exercise in patience, followed by a great surprise. However, by preparing your yard for Painted Buntings, you can improve your chances of attracting these beautiful birds.

Painted Buntings spend most of their time in shrub-scrub vegetation - so the more low-lying, dense vegetation (small trees, hedges, dense bushes, or undergrowth) you have in your yard, the more appealing it will be to Painted Buntings.

What kind of food should I feed my Painted Buntings?

Painted Buntings love white (proso) millet, which is the small round seed found in many basic seed mixes. You may be able to find bags of white millet and millet sprays (an entire seedhead of the proso millet plant) at well-stocked wild bird stores and online.

What kind of feeder is best for Painted Buntings?

Painted Buntings are often shy at the feeder, especially around larger birds - so consider purchasing a caged feeder, which is a tube-type feeder surrounded by a wire cage that allows small birds through, but keeps bigger birds from accessing the seed. Another alternative, especially in the breeding range (when males can be territorial), is to provide several feeders with plenty of space in between them.

Painted Bunting Observer Team (PBOT)

What is PBOT?

PBOT is the acronym for the Painted Bunting Observer Team - a group of volunteer "citizen scientists" who were helping ornithologists learn more about the Atlantic population of Painted Buntings. As the name implies, PBOT's goal was to observe, record, and catalogue sightings of this beautiful bird, whose population was in decline for several decades but is no longer in danger.

PBOT was started in the early spring of 2005 as a grassroots project to study Painted Buntings in coastal North Carolina. Dr. Jamie Rotenberg, Department of Environmental Sciences, UNC-Wilmington, enlisted the help of the members of Lower Cape Fear Bird Club (Wilmington, NC) to observe and report the number of Painted Buntings at their feeders. From these humble beginnings, PBOT grew with the help of funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and partnerships with the NC Museum of Natural Sciences, the SC Department of Natural Resources, the USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center at the University of Georgia, the NC Wildlife Commission and many others (see Partners list for a complete list of our partners).
At this time, PBOT is not currently collecting data, but want to thank everyone involved who helped us in our research efforts.

What was the PBOT study area?

PBOT was focused on the Atlantic population of Painted Buntings, but we are no longer accepting sightings at this point in time. We would like to thank those whom have contributed to our research and greatly appreciate all the photos and data sent in.

What were the objectives of the PBOT study?

By observing and reporting the activity of Painted Buntings at the feeder, volunteers helped researchers develop data on populations in a variety of habitats (urban, suburban and rural) across a vast geographical area (including coastal and inland environments). The data included quantifiable demographic parameters such as population distribution, density and abundance; adult and juvenile survival; and behavioral patterns of site-fidelity and habitat use.

Why did PBOT band Painted Buntings?

Capturing and banding Painted Buntings allowed us to identify an individual bird throughout its life. Through resightings and recaptures of our banded birds, we gained knowledge about a variety of life characteristics, including site fidelity, dispersal and migration, life-span and survival rate, reproductive success and population growth, and the behavior of individual Painted Buntings.

When our trained banding staff captured a Painted Bunting, they first identified its age, sex, assessed its fat accumulation, feather molt and wear, to help track its overall health. Then, they carefully attached a unique combination of three brightly-colored bands and one silver band that was etched with an identifying number from the US Bird Banding Laboratory. Because the etched number is too small to see from afar, the unique combination and arrangement of the colored bands with the silver band is what allows our volunteers to identify an individual bird at the feeder. The combination also indicated the state location (NC, SC, FL) of banding, allowing researchers to more quickly determine characteristics of the bird when it was resighted.

PBOT banded several thousand individual Painted Buntings in over 60 locations in North and South Carolina since the summer of 2005 until the beginning of 2015. This produced an extensive record of the habits and migration patterns of these birds.

Does banding hurt the bird?

No - or we would not do it! Over the years, the banding process and the bands have been tested and refined to prevent injury or discomfort to the birds.

I have a banded Painted Bunting! How do I identify the colors?

It can be difficult to correctly identify the colors and combination of bands on an active bird. We recommend taking digital photos of your bird, or scanning your photos into the computer, and zooming in on the bands. Once magnified, it will be much easier to compare your bird's band colors to our band photo (click on photo to enlarge). In order to read the combination properly, imagine yourself as the bird and read the bands: left leg--top band, left leg--bottom band, right leg--top band, right leg--bottom band. For example, the photo of the female shown below is as follows: Left-Top: Red/Yellow split (NC), Left-Bottom: Light Blue, Right-Top: Silver, Right-Bottom: White. All our Painted Buntings are banded with one silver metal band and three color bands with two bands on each leg. (Other banding programs may use only the silver band, or a combination of the silver band and other bands.) *As of the summer of 2010, we also banded all birds with a “split band” containing two colors together on one band (red/yellow or blue/pink or red and white/red). These split bands tell us immediately in which state the bird was banded – red/yellow is North Carolina, blue/pink or red and white/red (not shown above) is South Carolina. In addition, if you spot a white/black split band (not shown in the photo above), that is Florida.*

Citizen Science

What is a "citizen scientist" and how do they help with research?

A "citizen scientist" is a volunteer who makes observations or measurements in order to assist scientific research. You do not need to have any specific scientific background to become a citizen scientist, and there are many types of citizen science projects you can get involved in! Painted Buntings are frequent visitors to the backyard feeder, making them an ideal species to study using the help of citizen scientists. With the help of volunteer observers, we determined the abundance and distribution of Painted Buntings at backyard feeders and detect population patterns across a wide range of coastal and inland environments, from small suburban backyards to large rural properties. Since we are no longer collection data on the website, be sure to enter new observations via "e-bird".


Are Painted Buntings an "endangered” or “threatened” species

No. Painted Buntings are neither an endangered species nor a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (see website here for ESA details). Painted Buntings were classified as a "Focal Species" by the US Fish and Wildlife Services (USFWS). However, Painted Buntings were in decline previously. The Atlantic population of Painted Buntings was in decline for several decades (see chart below). Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) Data collected from 1966 to 1996 showed a 3.2% decline per year for Painted Buntings in the southeast region (North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida). Since the 2000s, the Painted Bunting has been showing an increase.

Is there a human-caused threat to Painted Buntings?

Yes! Because of their colorful plumage, male Painted Buntings are often the target of the caged bird market. Although illegal in the United States, there is still a legal market for caged wild birds in Mexico, Cuba, and other countries. Please report any caged Painted Buntings in the United States to your local wildlife authorities!

Where do I enter my PBOT observations now?

Where do I enter my Painted Bunting observations now?

Please enter your observations at "ebird". This a fantastic tool used all over the US and the world to enter bird observations. You can keep your data and refer to it at any time. Also, there is an "ebird" app available for smartphones. This is the new way to keep track of your observations! Please click here for the link to The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology's site and sign up for "ebird".