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Living Sanibel: Painted Bunting

By Staff | Sep 29, 2011

By Judd Patterson Painted Bunting

Perhaps the single most colorful bird that passes through Southwest Florida, the male painted bunting is a curious palate of blue, lime-green, red, and gray. The female is more of a greenish-yellow color and nowhere near as brilliantly colored as the male.

The painted bunting has two distinct populations: eastern and western. The eastern bird that comes through Florida generally winters in Cuba and Central America, while the western race winters in Northern Mexico. Some birds remain in South Florida for the winter; locating any during the summer is very difficult. One of the best places to find the painted bunting consistently is near the bird feeder located just off the main boardwalk at Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Collier County, where it comes to feed throughout the winter.

This bird has one unexpected characteristic, especially because of its small size: the male is very territorial and aggressive toward other male buntings. Fights between rival males can become extremely animated, involving fierce pecking, beating each other with their wings, and grappling, sometimes resulting in the death of the defeated bird, a highly unusual outcome among avian rivals.

The painted bunting is approaching threatened status primarily because of habitat loss in its eastern population. It prefers dense thickets and mixed pine and hardwood forests. A handful of birds never leave Florida, nesting along the southern edge of the great Eastern deciduous forest along the border of Georgia and Alabama. It is not adapting well to human alterations to the environment, although it can be spotted on occasion in urban locations.