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)
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 )
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).
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Breeding
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
Length: 14 cm
Weight: 16 grams
Habitat and Ecology
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
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).
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).
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).
Comments: Eats mainly grass seeds, also insects and spiders (Terres 1980).
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).
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Status: wild: 126 months.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
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.
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.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Passerina ciris
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.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Passerina ciris
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- Near Threatened (NT)
- Near Threatened (NT)
- Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
- Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
- Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)