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)
- Iñigo-Elias, E.E., K.V. Rosenberg, and J.V. Wells. 2002. The danger of beauty. Birdscope [newsletter of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology] 16(3) [Summer 2002]
- American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check-list of North American Birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
- Herr, C.A., P.W. Sykes, Jr., and J. Klicka. 2011. Phylogeography of a vanishing North American songbird: the Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris). Conservation Genetics 12: 1395-1410.
- Kaufman, K. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
- Thompson, C.W. 1991. Is the Painted Bunting actually 2 species—problems determining species limits between allopatric populations. Condor 93: 987–1000
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