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Overview

Brief Summary

The Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) is a small, brightly colored songbird that breeds in the southeastern and southcentral United States and winters in the Florida Keys, the Caribbean, Mexico, and portions of Central America. The breeding range includes two disjunct populations, separated by a 550 km gap. The interior breeding population is found mainly from northeastern Mexico and Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana east along the Gulf Coast to southern Alabama and locally in western Florida. The Atlantic Coast population is limited to coastal portions of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and northeastern Florida.

In the breeding season, Painted Buntings are found in partly open situations with dense brush and scattered trees, riparian thickets, and weedy and shrubby areas. In migration and winter, they are found in a variety of open weedy, grassy, and scrub habitats, as well as in open woodland.

Painted Buntings feed mostly on seeds and insects, foraging mainly on the ground but also in shrubs and low trees (although males typically deliver their warbling songs from higher in the trees). During migration, Painted Buntings may forage in mixed flocks with Indigo Buntings (P. cyanea).

A male Painted Bunting may have more than one mate. The female builds the nest and lays 3 to 4 (sometimes 5) eggs. Nests are frequently parasitized by cowbirds. Incubation (by the female only) is 11 to 12 days. The nestlings are fed by the female and leave the nest 12 to 14 days after hatching, at which time the male may take over feeding if the female begins incubating a second clutch.

Across their breeding distribution, abundance estimates indicate that the Painted Bunting is in long-term decline. One key factor contributing to the overall decline of the Painted Bunting is loss of breeding habitat as a result of urban development, road-building, and agricultural intensification. The effects of this habitat loss are most acute along the Atlantic Coast, where this species’ distribution is limited. Loss of riparian habitats in the southwestern United States and northwest Mexico, used during migration by the interior population, may also be influencing population levels in this species and wintering habitats in Central America continue to be degraded. It is likely that the cage bird trade on the wintering grounds has also played and continues to play an important role in the Painted Bunting's decline. The colorful adult males have been been traded for a very long time, with thousands of live birds having being shipped to Europe for sale in the early 19th century. This trade was banned in the United States in the early 20th century, but continues to be legal in other countries. Some estimates suggest that at least 100,000 Painted Buntings were trapped in Mexico between 1984 and 2000. International trade in wild-caught birds was banned in Mexico from 1982 to 1999, but resumed quickly after the ban was lifted.

Genetic data and studies of differential timing and patterns of molt and migration support the recognition of two allopatric and genetically isolated breeding populations in the southern United States, an important finding to guide conservation planning. These isolated populations represent incipient species--distinct evolutionarily significant units (ESUs)--which likely require distinct management plans.

(Thompson 1991; Kaufman 1996; AOU 1998; Herr et al. 2011 and references therein)

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Distribution

Painted bunting breeding range is divided into a western and an eastern population.The western population ranges from Kansas south to Louisiana and Texas. The eastern population is limited to the coastal regions of North Carolina south to northern Florida. The western population winters primarily in Mexico and as far south as Panama. The eastern populations winter in southern Florida, including the Florida Keys, and are occasionally seen to winter in the Bahamas and Cuba (Lowther et al. 1999).

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )

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Global Range: BREEDING: southeastern New Mexico, northern Texas, central Oklahoma, west-central Kansas, southern Missouri, and southwestern Tennessee south to southern Chihuahua, northern Coahuila, southern Texas, southern Louisiana, and along Gulf Coast to southern Alabama, locally to western Florida, and, disjunctly, North Carolina to central Florida (AOU 1998, Lowther et al. 1999).

NON-BREEDING: northwestern Bahamas, Florida, southern Tamaulipas, and Sinaloa south to West Indies and Panama (AOU 1998); also locally in the U.S. along the Gulf Coast (Thompson 1991). Eastern population winters mainly in southern Florida, the Bahamas, Cuba, Jamaica, and Haiti; western population winters mainly in southern Texas, Mexico, and Central America (Thompson 1991).

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Range Description

Passerina ciris occurs in two geographically disjunct populations: a western population breeding from northern Mexico to northern Texas, USA, and wintering in south-west Mexico; and an eastern population breeding along the Atlantic coast from North Carolina to Florida (USA) and wintering in southern Florida and the Caribbean (Lowther et al. 1999). The global population is estimated to be 3.6 million birds (Rich et al. 2003). Populations have declined since the mid-1960s and the species has been extirpated from parts of its range in south-west and east USA and north-east Mexico (Lowther et al. 1999, Sauer et al. 2003, NAS 2004, USFWS 2004). Breeding Bird Survey data from the continental USA (and for five years from north-east Mexico) indicates that the population has declined by 55% over the last 30 years (Iigo-Elias et al. 2002, Rich et al. 2003), with the steepest declines in the eastern population.
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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Breeding

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Physical Description

Morphology

Painted buntings are small brightly colored birds. They are 12 to 13cm in length with an average body weight of 16 grams. Adult birds are dimorphic, the males being brightly colored. The head and nape of the males is blue, the back is bronze-green and the rump and underparts are red.The females are less brilliantly colored having dark greenish upperparts and yellow-green underparts.The wings and tail of both the male and female are dark brown or black contrasting with the rest of the body. The feet and legs, eyes and bill of both sexes are dark in color. The feet and legs are dull to dusky brown, the eyes are dark brown to hazel and the bill is dark brown to blackish in color. Plumage of juvenile birds resembles that of the adult female. The males differentiate from the females during their second year where they begin to exhibit the blue feathers on their head (Lowther et al. 1999).

Range mass: 13 to 19 g.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Size

Length: 14 cm

Weight: 16 grams

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
The western population breeds in scrub-brush habitat that remains largely intact, and the eastern population inhabits coastal plain agricultural land (Lowther et al. 1999).

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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The western population's breeding habitat consists of partially open areas scattered with brush, riparian thickets and shrubbery. The eastern population's breeding habitat consists of scrub communities and the margins of maritime hammocks.

Wintering habitat is similar for both the western and eastern populations, consisting of tropical forest margins and tropical savanna.

Foraging habitat is the same as either their breeding or wintering habitat. During migration foraging can occur in mixed flocks with indigo buntings

(Kaufmann 1996, Lowther et al. 1999).

Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; scrub forest

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Comments: In general, few data exist on habitat requirements and they are not well quantified (Lowther et al. 1999). Partly open situations with scattered brush and trees, riparian thickets and brush, weedy and shrubby areas, woodland edges, yards and gardens in the southern U.S. Nests in bush or vine tangle, usually 1-2 meters up; sometimes in tree in thick Spanish moss at greater height (Harrison 1978). Western breeding populations use semi-open country with scattered trees and shrubs, riparian areas, abandoned farmland and other early successional stages (Parmalee 1959, AOU 1998).

In the Ouachitas of southwestern Arkansas, common in areas with a patchy mixture of open pasture and well-developed fencerows where farms are still small and family-run (J. Neal, pers. comm.). In southwest Missouri, 18 of 19 measured territories included predominantly old field vegetation (82 percent), with the remainder woodland (18 percent). Vegetative characteristics, however, varied widely between territories suggesting that a broad range of conditions are tolerated (Norris 1982, Norris and Elder 1982).

The southeastern coastal population uses a variety of habitats for breeding (Lanyon and Thompson 1986, Cox 1996, Meyers et al. 1999). While Meyers et al. (1999) found nesting success to be similar in beach shrub-scrub, managed pine-oak forest, and old growth oak forest, some forest-nesting individuals traveled up to 800 meters to feed in grassy or marshy openings, while shrub-scrub birds remained in core areas. Lanyon and Thompson (1986) determined that salt marsh/forest edge territories were preferred over interior forest, and concluded they were of higher quality.

Territory sizes measured include 1.13 hectares for one in Oklahoma (Parmalee 1959) and an average of 3.15 hectares on the edge of the range in Missouri (range 0.64-6.66 hectares, n = 19; Norris 1982, Norris and Elder 1982). Territories tend to be larger when there are no other territories adjoining (Norris 1982, Norris and Elder 1982), and smaller in high-quality habitat where territories are contiguous (Finke 1979, Lanyon and Thompson 1986). Males tend to return to nesting sites used in previous year (Lanyon and Thompson 1986).

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Migration

Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

Thompson (1991a and 1991b) notes that the western population begins fall migration two months earlier than the eastern population, and that western birds undergo a molt while stopping in desert areas of the southeastern Arizona and northwestern Mexico (rather than molting while still on the breeding grounds as eastern birds do). Loss of riparian habitat in this area may be a "bottleneck affecting population numbers" (Lowther et al. 1999). Arrives in Costa Rica in late October, departs by late March (Stiles and Skutch 1989).

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Trophic Strategy

Painted buntings are diurnal foragers, mainly feeding on grass seeds (Panicum spp., Amaranthus spp., Oxalis spp., Euphorbia spp. and Carex spp.) when in the wintering habitat and arthropods (grasshoppers[Orthoptera], caterpillars [Lepidoptera larvae], spiders [Arachnida] and snails [Gastropoda]) in their breeding habitat. The majority of food is foraged from the ground with some seeds being taken directly from the grass stalk. Painted buntings have also been observed stealing prey caught in spider webs (Kaufmann 1996; Lowther et al. 1999).

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Comments: Eats mainly grass seeds, also insects and spiders (Terres 1980).

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General Ecology

In winter in Mexico, occurs singly or in small groups; individuals may return to the same wintering site in successive years (Rappole and Warner 1980). Mean territory size 3.15 hectares (range 0.64-6.66, n=19) in Missouri (Norris 1982, Norris and Elder 1982).

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Life Expectancy

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
126 months.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 12 years
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Reproduction

The breeding season begins in late April through to early August peaking mid-May through to mid-July. Males usually arrive at the breeding territory one week before the females. Pairs are usually monogamous with rare instances of polygyny. Nests are located in low lying vegetation. The nests are built by the females and woven into the surrounding vegetation for strength. The females raise two broods per season laying between 3 and 4 eggs per brood. The eggs are incubated for a period of 11 days until the altricial young hatch. Parental care of the young is solely the female's responsibility until fledging occurs 12-14 days later . Time between fledging in the first nest to the second nest is around 30 days (Kaufman 1996; Lowther et al. 1999).

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

Average time to hatching: 11 days.

Average eggs per season: 4.

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Eggs are laid March-July (mostly May-June). Usually produces two broods per year, sometimes up to four. Clutch size usually is three to four. Incubation, by female, lasts 11-12 days. Young are probably tended by female alone; leave nest at 8-14 days.

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Passerina ciris

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 3 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

ACTATACCTGATCTTCGGCGCATGAGCCGGGATAGTAGGTACTGCCCTAAGCCTCCTCATCCGAGCAGAGCTGGGTCAACCTGGAGCTCTTCTAGGGGACGACCAAGTATACAACGTAGTCGTCACAGCCCATGCTTTCGTAATAATTTTCTTCATAGTAATGCCAATTATAATCGGAGGGTTCGGAAACTGACTAGTCCCTCTAATAATTGGAGCCCCAGACATAGCATTCCCACGAATAAACAACATAAGCTTCTGACTACTTCCCCCATCCTTCCTACTCCTCCTAGCATCTTCCACAGTCGAAGCAGGGGTGGGCACAGGCTGAACAGTTTACCCCCCACTAGCAGGCAACCTAGCCCACGCCGGAGCTTCAGTCGACCTGGCAATCTTCTCCCTACACCTAGCCGGTATCTCCTCTATCCTGGGAGCTATCAACTTTATTACAACAGCAATTAACATAAAACCCCCTGCCCTCTCACAATACCAAACCCCCTTATTCGTCTGATCAGTCCTAATTACCGCAGTTCTCCTACTCCTATCTCTCCCAGTACTCGCCGCAGGCATCACAATACTCCTAACAGACCGCAACCTCAACACTACTTTCTTCGACCCTGCTGGAGGAGGAGACCCAGTCCTGTATCAACACCTCTTCTGATTCTTTGGCNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Passerina ciris

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
NT
Near Threatened

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s
Butcher, G., Pashley, D., Rosenberg, K. & Wells, J.

Justification
This species has declined over the long term and apparently continues to do so at a moderately rapid rate. It is therefore considered to be Near Threatened.


History
  • Near Threatened (NT)
  • Near Threatened (NT)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
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Overall there has been a general decline in painted bunting numbers since the mid 1960's. Their desirability as caged birds and loss of habitat is the primary cause of their decline. Painted Buntings are still trapped and sold in Central America and transported over-seas by ship. Habitat destruction constitutes the main reason for their decline. Development of coastal swamp thickets and woodland edges has significantly reduced their eastern coastal habitats. The loss of mid-migratory staging areas (riparian habitat) in southwest USA and in northwest Mexico have contributed to the western population decline. To a lesser extent brood parasitism by cowbirds (Molothrus ) contributes to the Painted bunting's decline. The painted bunting is currently listed on Partners in Flight Watchlist as a species of special concern (Kaufmann 1996, Lowther et al. 1999).

Painted buntings are listed as near-threatened by the IUCN, and they are protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act.

US Migratory Bird Act: protected

US Federal List: no special status

CITES: no special status

State of Michigan List: no special status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: near threatened

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National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N5B - Secure

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure

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Population

Population
Rich et al. (2004).


Population Trend
Decreasing
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Threats

Major Threats
Loss and intensification of habitat through urban development, road building and agricultural intensification, and capture for the cagebird trade are the primary threats (Lowther et al. 1999, Iigo-Elias et al. 2002, Phillips Lynch 2004), with part of the declines also being attributed to brood-parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbird. Trapping and sale in local markets occurs in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, and overseas to international markets in Europe, South America and Asia (Ramos 1982, Iigo-Elias 1986, Iigo-Elias et al. 2002).
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Comments: HABITAT: Breeding habitat loss is generally considered to be the greatest threat (Muehter 1998, Lowther et al. 1999); this is especially well documented along the Atlantic coast (Meyers, pers. comm.).

PET TRADE: Capture of individual birds for sale in the pet trade is apparently a significant concern on the wintering grounds in Central America (Muehter 1998).

PARASITISM: Brown-headed cowbird (MOLOTHRUS ATER) parasitism is known from both western and eastern populations. Thirteen 13 of 45 nests parasitized in Oklahoma (Parmalee 1959), 4 of 60 nests parasitized in Texas in an area where extensive cowbird removal had been carried out (Barber and Martin 1997), and 8 percent of an unspecified number of nests on barrier islands in Georgia (Meyers et al. 1999). Whether or not brood parasitism is a significant factor in population declines is not known.

PREDATION: Predators are likely similar to those of other small passerines and do not seem to be an unusual threat (Lowther et al. 1999).

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Management

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions

Conservation Actions Underway
The species is monitored, but no other specific actions are known.

Conservation Actions Proposed
Tightly control any ongoing trade in the species. Develop an appropriate management strategy to reverse population declines. Develop a comprehensive conservation strategy including adaptive harvesting for populations in the Caribbean and Latin America (Iigo-Elias 2006).
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Restoration Potential: Restoration potential is probably good, with appropriate habitat management. Some apparent range expansion along the Atlantic coast and in Florida (Potter et al. 1980, Taylor et al. 1989, Stevenson and Anderson 1994) suggests the ability to recolonize suitable habitat previously inhabited in southeast Arizona and New Mexico.

Preserve Selection and Design Considerations: Preserves for both the eastern and western populations will need to maintain early to mid-successional vegetation, with an emphasis on retaining a mix of open and wooded or shrubby components. In the southeast, protecting beach shrub-scrub and coastal wetland habitats will be important (Meyers 1999). More detailed preserve design specifications must await the completion of further study, some of which is underway (Sykes and Meyers 1999).

There are no data to suggest parameters for preserves on the wintering grounds; it is possible that protection from illegal capture and sale for the pet trade may be as significant a factor as habitat protection (Muehter 1998).

Because the western populations spend significant time molting and feeding during their autumn stopover in southeastern Arizona and northwestern Mexico, consideration should be given to the protection of habitat in this region--especially riparian vegetation (Thompson 1991a, 1991b). No information which might guide the design of such preserves appears to exist, however.

Management Requirements: In areas where succession proceeds toward forested climax conditions, managers will need to interrupt this process through mowing, burning, herbicide application or other means. The most significant concern for the Atlantic coast populations is the transformation of valuable wetland and scrub-shrub habitats into intensive pine management and residential development (Meyers 1999); successful management will require the protection of existing habitat.

Management Research Needs: Population declines are well documented, but reasons for the declines need more study. A better understanding of threats within the breeding range and wintering area, and the biology of the western populations on their fall migration stopover are needed. The relationship of habitat quality to nesting success, especially across the range of the western population, needs research. Effects of brown-headed cowbird (MOLOTHRUS ATER) nest parasitism needs further study. Cowbird impact is less than among some coexisting species (Barber and Martin 1997; Meyers et al. 1999), but may become a factor among eastern populations which have only recently come into contact with cowbirds (Lowther 1993, Lowther et al. 1999).

Biological Research Needs: Genetic studies of the eastern and western populations should be undertaken to determine if they are distinct species or if the two subspecies currently described are appropriately defined (Thompson 1991b, Lowther et al. 1999).

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