There are some birds that, although you see them in field guides, you really don't believe that they exist. For me one of those birds was the Painted Bunting. How could something so colorful as a male Painted Bunting exist? They really can't have red, blue, and green in them. They must be the creation of some strange ornithologist who spilled bright paint while painting an Indigo Bunting.
During my Texas trip I actually saw one of these birds in the field at Arkansas National Wildlife Refuge. Not only did I see the birds, but the plumage of the male was brighter than that illustrated in the field guides.
The Painted Bunting is primarily a southern bird and its range in the United States is confined from the gulf coast on the south to the Carolinas, Tennessee, and Kansas to the north. It gets as far west as New Mexico, but is absent as a nesting species in the central gulf states. This species is a migrant that spends the winter in central and South America although many individuals winter in south Florida and Texas.<
Male Painted Buntings begin returning to their nesting areas in April. They set up territories in areas of low growth shrubs, hedgerows, bushes, and vines. Nests are made in shrubby/old field habitat, usually from three to six feet off the ground. As many as three sets of young a season are common in this species. However, most pairs of buntings will raise two broods. Eggs are laid in the clutches of three or four, and incubation takes 11 days.
Buntings are closely related to sparrows and are primarily seed eaters. Approximately 80 percent of the birds' diet is composed of seeds from such plants as foxtail and sunflower. The limited amount of insect food is generally composed of small pest insects including the boll weevil.
The bird is so colorful, there apparently was quite a market (in the past) for capturing Painted Buntings to use as caged birds. Even Audubon himself was familiar with the habits of southern residents trapping the birds for sale. Luckily this practice was banned many years ago, and we can still enjoy the beautiful coloration of these birds in the wild. Those of us in the north will have to be satisfied with our winter finches, though nothing could compare to having several Painted Buntings come to a feeding station. People in the south are certainly lucky. Now that I've seen the bird, I feel lucky as well.