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BIRDS » GRASSLAND AND SHRUB BIRDS
Painted Bunting

Painted Bunting
Passerina ciris

The Painted Bunting was first discovered nesting in the southwestern corner of Tennessee in 1929, and its distribution in the state has changed little since then. The male is one of the most colorful birds in all of North America with his bright blue, green, and red plumage. There are two disjunct breeding populations of this species, one in the south-central United States, and the other along the seaboard of the southeastern states. The larger western population spends the non-breeding season in Mexico and Central America; the eastern population winters in Florida and the Caribbean. Breeding Bird Survey results have documented a general population decline for the Painted Bunting since 1965, and is listed by Partners in Flight as a WatchList species of special concern. The exact causes for this decline are not known, but likely include habitat loss, cowbird parasitism, and trapping for the pet trade on the wintering grounds. Painted Buntings are usually present in Tennessee from late April to late July.

Description: The mature male of this small finch-like bird is unmistakable with his red chest, blue head, and green back. First year males and females are a cryptic greenish-yellow.

Length: 5.5"
Wingspan: 8.75"
Weight: 0.54 oz.

Voice: The song is a sweet, continuous warble, similar to an Indigo Bunting, but unbroken.

Similar Species:

  • Adult male is distinctive.
  • Indigo Bunting females are overall brown, not greenish-yellow.

Habitat: Open shrubby areas, or brushy fields and thickets near the Mississippi River.

Diet: Seeds and insects.

Nesting and reproduction: The Painted Bunting is a polygynous species, where the male may have more than one mate.

Clutch Size: Normally 3 to 4 eggs.

Incubation: Females alone incubate the eggs for 11 to 12 days.

Fledging: Both adults feed the young, which fledge in about 12 to 14 days.

Nest: A deep woven cup of plant fibers, lined with hair or fine grass, and usually placed in low vegetation.

Status in Tennessee: The Painted Bunting is a locally rare summer resident in southwestern Tennessee (Shelby and Tipton Counties) present from late April to late July.

Dynamic map of Painted Bunting eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • Since one Painted Bunting male may have more than one mate, they are highly territorial and aggressive towards one another. Fights between males can be vicious, and can even result in death.

Best places to see in Tennessee: Essentially restricted to Shelby and Tipton County. Ensley Bottoms (aka, the Pits) in Shelby County. They breed in the scrubby forests in southwest Shelby County. The area at the entrance to President's Island WMA is a good place. The nest in the shrubby areas along the roadsides. They can also be found in the shrubs just south of the Allen Steam Plant along the canal/river.

For more Information:

Sources:

Lowther, P. E., S. M. Lanyon, and C. W. Thompson. 1999. Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) The Birds of North America, No. 398. (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. Tennessee Press, Knoxville.

Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.


Consider using the online bird checklist program at eBird to help us understand bird populations and distributions in Tennessee. Click here to see how.