How to Identify a Varied Bunting

Look for varied buntings along the southwest border in Texas and Arizona, or in Mexico. See photos of the males and females and learn what they eat.

Male Varied Bunting, Arizonadrferry/Getty Images

Male Varied Bunting

Less well-known than its bunting family members, the indigo bunting, lazuli bunting and painted bunting, the male varied bunting is just as stunning. In the breeding season, males are a vibrant purple and red, with a distinctive red eye ring and a black patch near their bill. In the non-breeding season, males molt into brownish plumage. They are small songbirds, measuring 4 to 5 inches long.

Check out inspiring pictures of indigo buntings.

Female varied bunting on cactusCourtesy Dawn Arjes

Female Varied Bunting

Female varied buntings and young males are lighter brown in color, with no visible streaking or wing bars.

“I took this shot on a hot summer day at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson. I had never seen a female varied bunting eat from a cactus fruit, so it was very exciting for me to snap this moment,” says Dawn Arjes of Paw Paw, Illinois.

Learn how to identify snow buntings.

Varied Bunting (Passerina versicolor)alantobey/Getty Images
Varied bunting on the Pacific slope of the Sierra Madre in Sinaloa, Mexico

Varied Bunting Range and Habitat

You’ll only find these birds if you head way down to the southwest. Discover more desert birds of the southwest. Look for them in the summer breeding season along the southern border of Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. They are short-distance migrants and are year-round residents in Mexico.

Want to see one? Don’t miss the top 5 birding hotspots in southeast Arizona.

Despite their vibrant colors, this species can be hard to spot because they stay low in dense shubby areas, thorny thickets and woods. Varied buntings forage for insects on the ground, so you probably won’t see them at your bird feeders. They also eat some seeds and berries from plants.

Attract indigo buntings with their favorite foods.

Lori Vanover
Lori has 20 years of experience writing and editing home, garden, birding and lifestyle content for several publishers. As Birds & Blooms senior digital editor, she leads a team of writers and editors sharing birding tips and expert gardening advice. Since joining Trusted Media Brands 13 years ago, she has held roles in digital and print, editing magazines and books, curating special interest publications, managing social media accounts, creating digital content and newsletters, and working with the Field Editors—Birds & Blooms network of more than 50 backyard birders. Passionate about animals and nature, Lori has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural and Environmental Communications from the University of Illinois. In 2023, she became certified as a Wisconsin Extension Master Gardener, and she is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology and sits on the organization's Publications Advisory Committee. She frequently checks on her bird feeders while working from home and tests new varieties of perennials, herbs and vegetable plants in her ever-growing backyard gardens.