Rainbow Birds: All About Painted Buntings

Painted buntings sport a jaw-dropping rainbow of colors. Learn what males and females look like, what they eat and see the range map to help spot them.

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You probably recognize common feeder birds by color. Red? Cardinal. Blue? Blue jay. Yellow? Goldfinch. But when all of those colors and more are on one bird, you’re looking at a painted bunting. Discover 15 common backyard birds you should know.

How to Identify Male and Female Painted Buntings

how to attract birds to feedersCourtesy Patsy Elmore
Male painted bunting

Males have bright blue heads, red bodies and yellow-green backs, with darker green on the wings. They develop this bold color in the fall of their second year. Females and juveniles sport a lime green hue, an unusual color among North American feeder birds.

Look and listen for bright blue indigo buntings.

Female or juvenile painted buntings look green and nearly identical.photo credit: Michelle Summers
This is a female or young male painted bunting (the two are nearly identical).

Painted Bunting Nest

During the breeding season, males are extremely territorial. They stake out an area of about 3 to 8 acres and defend it vigorously from other males. Vicious fights may ensue, with males wounding other males. Females may even get caught up in the fray. Together the male and female choose a nest site, generally in dense vegetation about 3 to 6 feet off the ground.

Females build the nests and lay a clutch of three or four pale eggs speckled with brown, which they incubate alone for about 11 days. Once the eggs hatch, the female stays busy feeding her young brood, again with no help from her mate. The hatchlings fledge the nest in about nine days, and females often lay a second clutch of eggs soon after.

Check out 9 proven tips to attract nesting birds.

Painted Bunting Song

Once the territory is secure, males sing and spread their feathers to attract a mate. Only male painted buntings sing songs like: graffiti graffiti spaghetti-for-two. If you think you see a plain green female bursting into song, it’s most likely an immature male in his first year.

What Do Painted Buntings Eat?

For most of the year, painted buntings are seed-eaters, favoring seed from native grasses like switchgrass. They will visit feeders for small seeds like njyer thistle and white millet seed. During the breeding season, they switch to protein-heavy insects for extra energy. Females may steal bugs caught in spiderwebs, and even pull webs down to feast on the spiders that built them. Once breeding season ends, they return to seeds, especially ones they find on or near the ground.

Attract indigo buntings with their favorite foods.

How to Attract Painted Buntings

female orchard oriole and male painted bunting in waterCourtesy Ron Newhouse
Painted bunting and orchard oriole

To attract these stunning fliers to your yard, offer millet seed in a feeder with perches. Painted buntings are wary and easily scared off, so hang a feeder with a protective cage around the tube to discourage larger bully birds.

Ensure that your yard provides low dense vegetation by planting plenty of native shrubs and grasses. Painted buntings nest close to the ground in low-growing vegetation, so having these on your property raise your chances of bringing in a breeding pair.

These bright beauties love birdbaths, too. Like many birds, painted buntings like to have an easy source of water to visit. Consider putting in a birdbath with a fountain – moving water attracts more birds.

Patience is the key with painted buntings. They may be slow to come around, but once they find a constant food source, water and protective shelter, they’re likely to return frequently.

painted buntingsCourtesy Gilberto Sanchez
When males migrate to warm regions for the winter, they keep their rainbow plumage instead of molting into drab colors like some other songbirds.

Painted Bunting Range and Migration

Look for painted buntings in the south central and southeastern states. They have two distinct summer breeding areas. One covers a large area from Texas to Mississippi and north to Kansas, and another is centered in the coastal Carolinas. Painted buntings undertake a short winter migration to Florida, Mexico and Central America, when they gather in small mixed flocks with other birds, such as their indigo bunting cousins.

Painted Bunting Range Map

Next, check out 20 photos of breathtaking blue colored birds.

Jill Staake
Jill Staake's lifelong love of nature turned into a career during the years she spent working with native Florida butterflies, caterpillars, and other wildlife at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa, Florida. During this time, she helped to maintain 30+ acres of gardens and backwoods, all carefully cultivated to support the more than 20 species of butterflies displayed indoors and out. She now writes for a variety of publications and sites on topics like gardening and birding, among others.