Behold the “most beautiful bird in North America”. That is how this little cousin of the Cardinal is often described. From the first time that I saw this creature in a bird guide about twenty years ago I dreamed of attracting it to my yard. When we lived about four miles north of here I would occasionally see one in the trees along our road, but never in the yard. It wasn’t until some millet sprouted up beneath the bird feeder last year that I discovered the secret for enticing this beauty to visit. Once I saw what they preferred to eat, and how they wanted to eat it, I began planning for their return this year. When I planted zinnias along the fence line I also planted bird seed. Now I just wish I had planted more!
The painted bunting is common in our region- LA, AR, OK, TX, and into Mexico. It loves shrub-scrub vegetation areas where it can remain safely hidden. It is also found along the Atlantic coast from NC to Florida. Two of its major breeding areas are in those states. It often flocks with Indigo buntings.
Painted buntings are on the Audubon “watch list” because their numbers have been declining in recent years. Most of this is due to loss of habitat and the rude behavior of the cowbird. You may not be aware of it, but the cowbird is a parasite- it does not build its own nest, nor care for its own young. It simply lays eggs in the nests of other birds and the bunting is one of its frequent hosts.
Another reason for the loss of buntings is that they are captured in Mexico and exported to Europe as pets. The US is trying to discourage this practice and it is illegal to capture them here.
Buntings are very territorial and males will sometimes fight to the death. They are usually monogamous but will occasionally take two mates. The females are also distinctive in appearance and are the only truly green bird in our country.
They are a delight to behold and if they repeat last year’s behavior they will return to the yard each day for about two weeks.