The buntings are a family of Old World passerines native to Asia, Europe, and Africa. The bunting species found in North and South America actually belong to the cardinal family. These seed-eating songbirds come in all colors ranging from dull brown to bright green and blue. And they live in various habitats around the world, reaching from the coldest regions to the hottest. Discover all types of bunting birds, including where they live, what they eat, and how they behave.
With its vibrant blue color, the blue bunting is an unmistakable sight in its Central American range. They average about five inches long and feature various blue shades in their plumage. Their faces are sky blue, and their upperparts are blackish blue, with deep blue undersides. Females are dull brown with reddish bellies. They inhabit areas as far north as Mexico (Occasionally, you can find them in Texas and Louisana) through to Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. You can find them in scrublands, thickets, and forest edges.
Nicknamed the “blue canary,” the indigo bunting is known for its cheerful songs during spring and summer. They are small seed-eaters from the cardinal family and native to North and South America. Males are vibrant cerulean during the breeding season with indigo heads. During the winter, their plumage features brown edges. They breed in the eastern United States and winter in the West Indies and Central America, with some reaching the northern tip of South America. Their preferred habitats include forest edges, open deciduous forests, and farmland.
The corn bunting is a large bunting from Europe, Asia, and Africa. They are bulky birds, with males and females appearing similar, which is often rare in buntings. Adults are heavily streaked grey-brown, with whitish underparts. And the wing coverts are dark and white-tipped. They range from western Europe and North Africa to northwestern China. Only populations in far northern areas migrate to warmer weather for winter. They are birds of open country and live in farmland and wasteland. Corn buntings especially like weed-rich stubble during winter.
Lark buntings are one of the most easily recognizable birds in North America. This species features all-black bodies with snow-white wing patches and white tail tips. Females are grayish brown with white stripes. They breed in the central United States and winter in Mexico and the US southwest in Texas and Arizona. You will find them in prairies during spring and summer and high plateaus during winter. Listen to their soft calls and whistling songs, and watch as they forage in flocks on the ground for insects.
Named for the lapis gemstone, the lazuli bunting is brilliant blue and pumpkin-colored. Males have bright blue heads and backs and light rust-colored breasts with white bellies. Their wings are also layered with white and black. Females are brown and gray. And you may have trouble distinguishing their calls from the indigo bunting as both are high and rapid. But the lazuli’s is slightly longer and less repetitive. This species breeds in the western half of the United States and winters along the Mexican coast. Their habitats include brush and pastures near towns.
The bright yellowhammer is the inspiration for poetry as it sings its individualized songs from trees and flies over open country. These buntings are fairly large, averaging six inches with an 11-inch wingspan. They have bright yellow heads and heavily brown streaked backs, with yellow underparts. Females are similar in appearance but less bright and more streaked. These birds are native to Eurasia, and most populations are year-round residents. They live in dry country areas, like large clearings and agricultural fields.
Little buntings are common and wide-ranging from northeast Europe to far eastern Russia. These migratory species travel long distances to winter in India and China, remaining in their warmer habitats for long periods. They live in many habitats, easily adapting to their environments. But their preferred breeding areas include coniferous woodlands. You can identify these small birds by their chestnut faces, white undersides, and dark streaking on their backs and breasts. They also have black crown stripes and white eyering. Females look similar to males.
If someone were to draw a bird with all the colors in the rainbow, that would be the painted bunting. These vividly colorful buntings are in the cardinal family and one of the most beautiful birds in North America. They feature bright blue heads, red undersides, green backs, and red eyering. Their wings also feature multicolored layering. These birds breed in the southern and eastern United States and winter in Mexico, Florida, and Central America. You can find them in thickets, shrubs, brush, and woodland edges. But you may also spot them along roadsides or in suburban areas.
Pine buntings are large passerines, measuring between six and seven inches. This species is dull in color with white crowns and cheeks, chestnut faces, and heavily brown streaked backs and undersides. Females are duller and feature heavier streaking on their bellies. Pine buntings live in temperate Asia during summer and migrate to India and China during winter. You will typically find them in open areas with scattered trees, like open pine forests. These birds are often mistaken for yellowhammers.
The common reed bunting has an extensive range, from western Europe to northern Africa and eastern Russia to Japan. This species is common in wetlands with reeds and bushes. But you can also find them in farmland and other open areas. They are medium-sized, measuring between five and six inches and featuring small bills. Males have black heads and throats with white collars and underparts. Their backs are streaky brown. Females are similar but feature duller coloring and a streaked head.
Breeding in the high Arctic among rocky cliffs, snow buntings bring life to cold, barren fields. They are medium-sized buntings and feature sexually dimorphic coloring. Males are snow-white with black backs and yellow bills. Females have rufous backs and black wingtips. Snow buntings are unique, wintering further north than any other passerine. They breed in the Arctic tundra and migrate to northern temperate zones during winter. They nest in rocky crevices and patches of vegetation. But winter in open fields, shorelines, and roadsides.
The rock bunting receives its name from its rocky mountainous habitat. This bird ranges from northwest Africa to southern Europe and Central Asia. You can also find it in the Himalayas. It is primarily permanent in its environment, but some populations are short-distance migrants. You can identify the rock bunting by its chestnut upperparts, buff undersides, and pale gray heads. Females are duller and washed out.
Rustic buntings are another species with an extensive range. They range from western Europe to eastern Russia and as far south as China. This migratory bird breeds in the Palearctic and winters in southeast Asia. They inhabit wet coniferous forests, deciduous woodlands, streamsides, and bogs. Adults have white undersides, reddish-brown flanks, and pink legs. Females are heavily streaked with brown faces. Listen for their melancholy tunes and watch as they forage for seeds.
As its name suggests, the stocky yellow-breasted bunting indeed has bright yellow underparts. They also feature black flanks, brown upperparts, and black faces. Females are grayish-brown, with dull yellow undersides and heavily streaked backs. They live in boreal forests in Europe and Asia. You can often find them wintering in large flocks in rice fields and grasslands.
The varied bunting lives up to its name as its coloring varies from the typical bunting. Their plumage features rich purple, crimson, and lavender. The male’s vibrant coloration is easily recognizable, but females are dull light brown all over and can be mistaken for other species. This bird is native to North America, breeding in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico and wintering in southern Mexico. Look for them in desert and shrubland habitats, where they perch in thorny brush thickets.
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- Taylor & Francis Online, Available here: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00063659409477220
- IUCN RedList, Available here: https://www.iucnredlist.org/