Amelia Island’s Colorful Painted Buntings, Birdwatcher’s Delight

The most colorful songbird in North America, the male Painted Bunting, has been a regular here lately on Amelia Island, Florida.

Male Painted Bunting Amelia Island, Florida Backyard Feeder
Male Painted Bunting — Amelia Island Backyard Feeder

The eastern population of Painted Buntings (Passerina ciris) have a breeding range restricted to a small portion of the Atlantic Coastal Plain in four southeastern states — North and South Carolina, Georgia and Florida.  Some lucky Amelia Islanders might see this gorgeous little fellow, the male of the eastern population of Painted Buntings, right in their own yards.

The female Painted Bunting (and immature males, as well) look very different. The female is also different from the male in that she does not sing. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology describes females and immatures as “a uniform, bright yellow-green overall, with a pale eyering.”

Painted Bunting Amelia Island Living Magazine
Painted Bunting, Amelia Island Backyard Birds

The Painted Buntings in North Carolina and Florida are reportedly mainly coastal, while they apparently go much further inland in Georgia and South Carolina.

The greatest densities [of Painted Buntings] are on the barrier islands, the islands within the estuarine systems, and in suitable habitats on the immediate mainland adjoining the saline and brackish areas,” according to a research paper “North American Birds” by Paul Sykes, Jr. (of the University of Georgia) and Stephen Holzman (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.)  

There’s an organization, the Painted Bunting Observer Team, PBOT (www.paintedbuntings.org), asking for volunteers (dubbed “citizen scientists”) to record sightings of these beautiful birds.  Anyone who sees them can report the data to the PBOT group at the Department of Environmental Studies at University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW).

Unfortunately, according to their website, Painting Buntings are a species in decline: “Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) Data collected since 1966 show a 3.2% decline per year for Painted Buntings in the southeast region.” But, note that “Florida is the only state that consistently has a breeding population in the spring and summer (North Florida) and a wintering population (South Florida),” according to PBOT website.

Attracting Buntings To Backyards

Painted Buntings like white millet seed.  Also, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, they are “more likely to visit a bird feeder in a yard with low, dense vegetation.”

When visiting Amelia Island, places where birders, with patience, might observe Painting Buntings are:

1. Fort Clinch State Park (the official “gateway” to the Great Florida Birding Trail), with over 1,400 acres. Enter the state park’s main entrance from Atlantic Avenue in Fernandina Beach.

2. Egans Creek Greenway lists the Painted Bunting as a summer resident with frequency of sightings  “common” — i.e. several sightings a week.  The main Egans Greenway access (with restrooms) is located behind the Fernandina Beach Rec Center on Atlantic Avenue in Fernandina Beach.

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