Painted Bunting

Passerina ciris

Last updated: November 1, 2023
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© iStock.com/passion4nature

They are one of the most colorful species of birds.


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Painted Bunting Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Passeriformes
Family
Cardinalidae
Genus
Passerina
Scientific Name
Passerina ciris

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Painted Bunting Conservation Status

Painted Bunting Locations

Painted Bunting Locations

Painted Bunting Facts

Group Behavior
  • Flock
Fun Fact
They are one of the most colorful species of birds.
Estimated Population Size
15 million
Biggest Threat
Loss of Habitat
Most Distinctive Feature
Bright coloration
Other Name(s)
Mexican canary, pained finch
Wingspan
8.3 to 9.1 inches
Incubation Period
11 to 12 days
Predators
Snakes
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Flock
  • Pair
Common Name
Painted bunting
Average Clutch Size
4
Nesting Location
Densely covered trees
Age of Molting
15 to 18 months
Migratory
1

Painted Bunting Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Red
  • Blue
  • Green
Lifespan
Up to 10 years
Weight
0.5 to 0.7 ounces
Length
4.7 to 5.1 inches
Venomous
No

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Painted Bunting Summary

“The painted bunting is one of the most colorful species of bird in the world!”

The painted bunting is a member of the cardinal family. It is known for its bright, colorful plumage. Males will develop this coloration during their second year. During their first year, they have a similar appearance to females.

Painted Bunting Amazing Facts

  • It is also called the Mexican canary or painted finch.
  • Their French name, nonpareil, means “without equal” — a reference to their beautiful plumage. 
  • Illegal capture and trade is one of the largest threats to breeding populations around the world.
  • They have a migration-molt pattern more similar to waterfowl than other songbirds.
Painted bunting infographic

Where to Find the Painted Bunting

During the breeding season, the painted bunting prefers to inhabit dense brush located near woodlands or grassy regions. This preference continues into their migratory periods and outside of the breeding season, but they may also choose to inhabit the understory of semi-open forests during this time.

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There are no significant year-round populations of the painted bunting in the western hemisphere. It is native to North America, where it can be found from the southern United States to Panama.

During the breeding season, the painted bunting prefers to exist in the northernmost extent of its range. This includes around a dozen American states as well as around four Mexican states. Much of their breeding territory is centered in and around Texas, though they are also common in the coastal regions of the far east United States. 

While migrating, painted buntings can be seen in a larger area. This includes certain American states that lack a breeding population, such as Alabama. They can also be spotted throughout central Mexico.



Outside of these two time periods, the painted bunting is common in the southernmost regions of Mexico and throughout Central America. They can also be found in the southern tip of the Florida peninsula as well as in Cuba, the Bahamas, and the surrounding archipelagoes.

Painted Bunting Nests

After a mating pair comes together, both the male and female will search for a nesting site together. They prefer areas with dense foliage, nesting between three and six feet from the ground. When such a location is unavailable, the painted bunting will often prefer to nest higher, with some individuals building nests as high as 50 feet from the ground!

Regardless of nesting height, painted buntings prefer certain plants located near perching branches. Some of the most common nesting plants include:

  • Spanish moss
  • Mulberry
  • Mesquite
  • Elm
  • Osage-orange
  • Greenbrier
  • Oak
  • Myrtle
  • Pine.

Once the pair determines a nesting location, the female will build the nest in as little time as two days. The cup of the nest is small: around 2 inches wide and 1.5 inches deep. She forms this cup from a variety of organic materials, including twigs, rootlets, leaf skeletons, weeds, and grass that she weaves together. The entirety of the nest is bound with cobwebs, and when available, she will line the inside with fur or animal hair. This is especially true of painted buntings who chose their nesting locations near farmland and have access to horse hair, a preferred lining.    

                    

Painted Bunting Scientific Name

The species name for the painted bunting is Passerina ciris

There are two subspecies of the painted bunting. Passerina ciris ciris is the nominate species. Its breeding grounds are in the southeastern region of the United States. Passerina ciris pallidior breeds in the south-central region of the United States as well as in northern Mexico.

Painted Bunting Size, Appearance, and Behavior

Painted buntings are smaller size birds, similar to finches. They grow to be between 4.7 and 5.1 inches in length, and adults weigh anywhere from 0.5 to 0.7 ounces on average. Despite their compact size, they sport a wingspan almost double the length of their body, ranging from 8.3 to 9.1 inches from wingtip to wingtip.

Males of the species are the most notable, as well as the easiest to identify. They have a bold red circle around their eye, which contrasts greatly with the rich blue coloration of their heads. Their throats and chests match the red color of the eye ring, as do their tails. Their backs are green.

Females and juvenile males lack this bold coloration. Instead, they sport a green plumage all over. While this may not be as striking as the male’s coloration, it is still possible to identify females from other similarly-colored species due to the saturation of their plumage. Their green color is often much brighter than other species. 

Painted buntings have thick beaks designed for eating seeds. As a result, they can often be spotted foraging along the ground or at feeders. They prefer dense coverage while eating. 

Adult males often venture out onto perches to sing. They are also highly territorial and are known to fight with other males. These fights include pecking and hitting one another with their wings. These fights aren’t only between two males either: males will also occasionally attack females.

Birds with red chests: Painted Bunting

Male painted buntings are more brightly-colored and vibrant than females.

©iStock.com/passion4nature

Migration Pattern and Timing

This species is a medium-to-long-distance migratory bird. A rare occurrence, painted buntings from the western will settle in areas such as Arizona to molt before continuing their migration south. Eastern populations molt prior to migrating away from their breeding areas.

This species will migrate at night. They are often seen grouping with other species of bird.

Painted Bunting Diet

For the majority of the year, these birds only eat seeds. However, as they creep into breeding season, they begin to incorporate more animals into their diet. This includes insects, arachnids, and gastropods. 

What Does the Painted Bunting Eat?

Painted buntings will often be seen foraging for seeds. This includes seeds from:

  • Bristle grass
  • Pigweed
  • Wood sorrel
  • St. John’s wort
  • Sedge
  • Pine
  • Rose
  • Wheat
  • Fig

As they move into breeding season, they are much more likely to hunt. Some of their most common prey include:

Painted Bunting Predators and Threats

Painted buntings, in recent decades, have faced a decline in their population. This is due to the variety of threats that endanger individuals, including human threats and predators. 

One of the biggest threats to the painted bunting populations, as with many migratory birds, is habitat loss. In both the United States and Mexico, deforestation and urbanization have resulted in a large amount of habitat loss in the areas where this species most often frequents. 

What Eats the Painted Bunting?

Outside of human threats, predators also pose a threat to this species. One of the most common predators of the painted bunting is snakes. Some of the species most likely to target nests, young, and adults include:

Painted Bunting Reproduction, Babies, and Lifespan

The mating season begins with males and their elaborate courtship displays. When a male seeks to woo a female, he does so with intense enthusiasm and dedication. He will often perform small dances and show off his bright plumage. The most notable move they use to show off their colorations is fanning out their feathers much like a turkey would, although their display is a fraction of the size.

Painted buntings are typically monogamous. However, males may protect as many as two females in their territory. 

Once they choose their nesting location and the female builds the nest, she will lay between three to four eggs. There can be anywhere from one to three broods per year. These eggs are less than an inch in both length and width, and they have a greyish-blue exterior with small speckles of grey or brown.

The incubation period for painted buntings is 11 to 12 days. Their offspring are born completely helpless with only a small amount of down. They remain in the nest for around 9 days before leaving. Molting begins 15 to 18 months after the young are born.

The pained bunting can live to be up to 10 years old, although this age is rare for wild specimens. 

Painted Bunting Population

It is estimated that the painted bunting population currently sits at 15 million individuals. Between 1966 and 2019, their population experienced a drop of 33 percent. Despite this, they are still classified as a species of least concern.

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About the Author

Megan is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is birds, felines, and sharks. She has been researching and writing about animals for four years, and she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in biology and professional and technical writing from Wingate University, which she earned in 2022. A resident of North Carolina, Megan is an avid birdwatcher that enjoys spending time with her cats and exploring local zoological parks with her husband.

Painted Bunting FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Does the painted bunting migrate?

Yes, the painted bunting is a highly migratory species. They breed in the northernmost part of their range and spend the rest of the year in the south.

How many eggs do painted buntings lay?

Painted buntings lay between three and four eggs per brood.

How fast do painted buntings fly?

Although there have been few studies into the exact top speed of the painted bunting, they are efficient fliers able to migrate medium to long distances.

What is the painted bunting's wingspan?

The painted bunting has a wingspan of 8.3 to 9.1 inches from wingtip to wingtip.

When do painted buntings leave the nest?

Born helpless, painted buntings are usually able to leave the nest after around 9 days.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources
  1. , Available here: https://academic.oup.com/condor/article-abstract/93/4/987/5189398
  2. , Available here: https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/5224505

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