Focus on Natives: Painted and Indigo Buntings

Jill Staake

A request from a reader a few weeks ago sent me off to find more information on a truly spectacular little bird – the Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris). I found that several states throughout the Southeastern range offer the possibility of sightings, but the range of the Painted Bunting is fairly limited. However, its closely related cousin, the Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea), is common throughout the entire eastern United States. With a little effort you can lure one or both of these Birds & Blooms Most Wanted Birds to your own backyard.

Photo by Doug Jansen, WikipediaPainted Buntings have two breeding populations in the United States. One is focused on along the coastal regions from North Carolina to Northern Florida. The other is located in the southern and central midwest, and includes Kansas and Missouri south to Texas and Louisiana. (Click here for more detailed maps.) The eastern population migrates to South and Central Florida around mid-October and stays for the winter. If you live in any of these locations, you stand a chance of spotting this brightly colored charmer. Visit PBOT, the Painted Bunting Observer Team, to learn about others’ experiences.

Photo by Roland Jordahl, BirdandBlooms.comIndigo Buntings spend the winter in Central America, but migrate north in the spring to spend the summer breeding throughout the Eastern U.S. Those in extreme south Florida can hope to see them during migration; everyone else can look for them from mid-April through mid-October.

Fortunately, there are a lot of similarities between these two birds, so by taking action to bring Indigo Buntings to the yard, those in the Painted Bunting range stand a chance of seeing those in their yards as well. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Offer millet and thistle (Nyjer) seed. Although both of these birds eat mainly small insects, especially spiders, they will visit feeders for small seeds like thistle and white millet seed. Try a thistle-feeder with a cage to keep out larger birds, as buntings can sometimes be feeder-shy.
  • Add a birdbath. Like many birds, buntings like to have an easy source of water to visit. Consider putting in a birdbath with a fountain – moving water attracts more birds.
  • Plant shrubs and bushes. Both types of bunting nest close to the ground in low-growing vegetation, so having these on your property raise your chances of bringing in a breeding pair. Seek out natives for your area when possible.

There are no promises when it comes to birds, of course, but knowing what they look for in the wild can help. Do you see Indigo or Painted Buntings in your yard? Please drop by the comments section below and tell us your tricks and tips!

  1. says

    We don’t often see them in our yard, but a surefire way to find an Indigo Bunting in the wild here in Virginia is to look for powerline easements. They seem to love a clearing at a forest edge. Right now every powerline easement I pass while riding my bicycle has an Indigo Bunting singing its heart out!

  2. Lee Bellinger says

    I have had Indigo Buntings for a few years, they come right up to my back porch to the feeders hanging on the eaves..

  3. Deb Davis says

    In Western New York, I have them at our feeders. They love the Thistle seed. They hang with the yellow finches and feel safe with the numbers of their small friends. They are attracted to the thistle feeder that is hanging in the tree more then the one on the pole. They will bounce into the tree and back to the thistle feeder for security. I haven’t seen ours nest yet, but will look into it and try to accommodate them in their settings.

  4. Jimmye Porter says

    Currently, I have several Indigo Buntings, they have been frequent guests since my move to the NCentral area of AR, 6 yrs ago. I have also seen Painted Buntings, just not as often. Behind my home, is a pastured area, with lots of trees and undergrowth under the fence lines, providing shelter for Cardinals, Buntings, Blue Birds, Rose Breasted Grosbeak, Orioles, Yellow & Purple Finch, Chickadee, Titmouse, Blue Jay, Mockingbirds & many, many others that come to my various feeders. I have lots of opportunities & consider it a blessing to see so, many of the colorful creations God has provided.

  5. Julie Favorite says

    We have had them for 3 years now. We have a pair of Indigo Buntings and sometimes there is a 3rd wheel. They seem to favor eating in the evening and they are very calm and personable!

  6. says

    I live in a suburb of Tulsa, OK. I was very surprised to see 2 Indigo Bunting at my feeder and had to see through the binoculures to make sure. They visted for several day. I have millet & niger seed available. Hopefully they will return. We are not close to their range but were greatly pleased to see them.

  7. says

    Three years ago a cousin who is an avid birder told me she could hear the painted buntings and if I would offer white millet seed they might come to our feeder. We did and they did in just a couple of days. We had seen them on our property of and on for some years, but since we have fed white millet, they are pretty regular at the feeders. We had 3 males at one time last year and we have one now that comes several times a day to take millet seed. It’s a real treat to have them come to a feeder about 10 feet away while we drink coffee on the patio in the mornings.

  8. Jane K. Smith says

    I used to having Painted Buntings in the summer when I lived at Hilton Head Island, SC. The males are spectacular…the females just an olive greenish color.

  9. Kathleen says

    We live on Lake Huron in NE Michigan and see the Indigo Buntings occasionally. They seem to like to be around the Big Lake and surrounding shrubbery and small trees. Beautiful birds!

  10. loretta says

    We moved to Holden Beach, NC just south of Southport (from NJ) 5 years ago. I always put white millet out in a caged feeder in early April, and have had Painted Buntings visiting me through August for 4 years now. Their favorite breeding ground is on Bald Head Island, which is where I first spotted the colorful male Painted Bunting. Last year I observed a banded male all summer long. There is a Painted Bunting website, where you can send in your photos and register your sightings. It is fabulous!
    PS: I’m a Bluebird lover too!

  11. Irene Beattie says

    I live in central Texas and we have a family or two that returns every summer. I know, we are very lucky. They like the millet but I haven’t seen them on the nyger feeders. I do have several bird baths, but have never seen them at our fountain. Between the buntings and the lesser goldfinches we get a cheerful display.

  12. says

    It seemed that I saw indigo buntings much more frequently years ago. We live in a rural area. I have seen one in the past few years in our collective back yards and it has such a quiet but musical song. Never have seen a painted but, since blue is my favorite color, always happy to see an indigo!

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