Painted Bunting

Rainbow Flyers

Have you ever seen a rainbow fly through the air? If you have, it’s most likely you’ve seen one of our most colorful songbirds, the painted bunting. While males sport patches of yellow-green, dark red and royal blue, the females wear a demure olive-green plumage.

“Almost every birder who comes to South Texas has painted buntings at the top of his or her list,” says Tim Brush, ornithologist at University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in Edinburg and author of Nesting Birds of a Tropical Frontier: The Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas. “That doesn’t mean they’re easy to find.”

Painted buntings arrive in spring to nest across most of Texas, spending several months in the state. They depart again in the fall to make their winter home south of the border, with a few birds hanging around South Texas for the season. They pass through the Valley both coming and going.

Male Painted Bunting

During spring and fall migration, it’s best to look for buntings where seeds are abundant, such as in weedy fields or near bird feeders, according to Brush. In summer, they’re most likely found in edge habitat with dense understory.

Painted buntings’ habit of remaining in deep brush makes them hard to spot, but the species’ chip call and the rambling songs of males give the birds away.

When seen, this rainbow flyer can be misidentified. “People often think he’s an escaped tropical bird,” Brush says.

Painted buntings are declining throughout their range as a result of habitat loss, parasitism of their nests by cowbirds and trapping on their wintering grounds south of the border for use in the pet trade. They’re often caught and sold illegally as cage birds.

Have you seen a painted bunting at your feeder or at a park? 

The World Birding Center parks in the Rio Grande Valley will have many species to view during the upcoming fall migration.

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