Why You Haven’t Seen Any Painted Buntings

If you could imagine being a small bird (buntings, being medium-sized finches, are about five inches long) and sticking out like a sore thumb as the male does in these pictures Male Painted Bunting and Painted Bunting Pair with predators all about, you might be a little self-conscious. Painted buntings tend to be secretive and skittish, and can be found in thickets, woodland edges, shrubbery, and brushy areas. They won’t venture too far into the open to get their food. From what I’ve seen, females are less reclusive than males.

If you are in the painted bunting’s range (the Carolinas south through Florida for the eastern population) and provide the right habitat and food, you can have your own painted buntings. Our painted buntings breed from about Jacksonville, Florida north through the Carolinas, but from October to mid-April they winter in southern Florida (as well as Cuba and the Bahamas). Nancy has always been a gardener and has planted a variety of plants to attract hummingbirds and butterflies, so we have plenty of cover. When she made it her mission to attract the buntings, she bought them their own feeder; it was a tube feeder (she likes the ones from Stokes or Droll Yankees)

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We don’t get anything from either one of these companies. Nor have we done an exhaustive research into all available bird feeder options. We are just giving you our experience, and providing these links for your convenience.  Comments on your experiences relating to this topic are certainly welcome.
with a squirrel cage, and the wire spacing on the cage was such that even the larger birds couldn’t get in. She placed the feeder in a small (Jatropha) tree right next to the flower bushes, not out in the open. Buntings like small seeds – sunflower seeds are too large. Millet may be their favorite but isn’t strictly necessary. Nancy uses a songbird mix that has a number of small seeds (including millet). Within two weeks of putting up the feeder, she had two males and seven females. Of course, trying to get a good picture is another storyblog.

How To Attract Painted Buntings To Your Yard

  1. Provide thick shelter. Remember, they are reclusive. The more flamboyant males are even more reclusive.
  2. Feed them. If your neighbor becomes jealous and starts to compete for your painted buntings, try adding a bird bath. I’ve been told this could give you the edge you need.
  3. Pray. Also keep in mind they are most active (feeding) in the early morning and late afternoon. Good luck.

If you live in South Florida you now have about two months to get your yard ready for these winter residents. You’d better get busy.

Epilogue

It is clear that the painted bunting’s behavior is affected by its physical characteristics. There are risks associated with flamboyance. Somewhere along their evolutionary path, male painted buntings had to choose between bright colors for better sex or more obscure colors for longer life. Speaking for males everywhere, that was a no-brainer.

Afterword

Concerned that I may be warping, or at least oversimplifying science (possibly by anthropomorphismdefined, among other things), I invited my editor, trained biologist, and authorBook 1, Book 2 April Kirkendoll, to keep me honest. Here are some of her comments:

As your blog is fairly informal, a few anthropomorphisms are allowed.

As to actual biology, in bird species where a one-night stand and hitting on multiple females is the preferred method of child-making, flamboyance is the rule. “Sex is more important than long life for playboys” might be the male perspective, while “Guys are only good for one thing, so who needs a lot of ’em around?” could be the female perspective.

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clearly more cases of anthropomorphism
One sprightly alert male can pass on plenty of wily genes, and if he’s still alive to court you, he’s a good candidate for fatherhood. As a bonus, if the hawk is attracted to the brightly colored male, it may not notice the female, so she can go about her child-rearing in peace. Or the predator could simply be full by the time it notices the female.

In bird species where child rearing is a shared business, males and females are similarly colored. Single momhood must be more difficult (or those females simply refuse to have sex without commitment, probably because single momhood is so hard). Males can’t just doink and run; they have to stick around and provide housing, protection, and/or food. They have to live longer in order for the species to continue.

Monogamy among birds ranges from 70-90%, depending on what you read and how you determine monogamy and pairing. Sexual dichromatism

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Sexual dichromatism is a form of sexual dimorphism. Most sources, like Wikipedia redirect to the more general term, where you can find your definition at the bottom of the page. Click here for the short answer.
varies according to the amount of work the male puts into child-rearing. Basically, the more the color differences between genders, the less child-rearing the mate does. Females aren’t always the drab ones.

Postscript

For even more information on April’s last point, I contacted Brian Rapoza, a world-renowned birder, authorbook, teacher, and field trip coordinator for Tropical Audubon Societywebsite.

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Again, although I can personally recommend the books of both of these people, they are our friends and we receive nothing for these endorsements, either directly or indirectly. Brian did use three of Nancy’s photographs in his book, so if you bring your copy of his book to our booth and can show us one of those pictures, I will give you five dollars ($5) off of any purchase. If you show us your copy of one of April’s books, we will give you four dollars ($4) off, even if you can’t find one of Nancy’s pictures.
As an example of birds of which the female was NOT the drab one, Brian pointed to birds in the genus Phalaropus. The Red-necked phalarope, the Red phalarope, and less commonly the Wilson’s phalarope migrate past Florida in the Atlantic Ocean to nest in the Arctic. Although not nearly as flamboyant as the painted bunting, the female of these species is more colorful than the male, and, consistent with April’s comments, it is the male who incubates the eggs and cares for the young.

Author: Bruce

Although I grew up in Garden Grove, California, I have lived here in South Miami longer than I've lived anywhere else in the world. I've been married to my wonderful wife, Nancy, longer than I was ever without her. We were both teachers. Nancy recently retired after 40 years. I have also spent time as an officer in the Coast Guard, a commercial property appraiser, and an electrical engineering student. Now I'm technical support for Bee Happy Graphics. That means I handle this blog, our web page, and all E-mail, I do all post-processing and printing of the images, I cut mats and glass and frames. If you have a technical question, I would be the one trying to answer it.

One thought on “Why You Haven’t Seen Any Painted Buntings”

  1. For even more species where the female is more flamboyant, see Sabrina Imbler’s article for the Audubon Society, Pretty Little Fliers. While I’ve touted the female painted buntingblog, I find its inclusion in this list, as well as the inclusion of a couple other birds, a stretch. Sabrina’s article is still very good and will expand your understanding of the topic.

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