Painted Buntings: Birds of a Colorful Feather

Liani Yirka
North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
Open Minds Teen Science Cafe, Raleigh, North Carolina


Eastern Painted Buntings are small, colorful, Neotropical songbirds that migrate to North Carolina’s southern coastline during the summers to breed. These birds use maritime forest edges and thrive in places like Baldhead Island, where homeowners delight to see this species on their bird feeders. At this Café, teens learned about these beautiful birds, and what research is being conducted in order to learn more about them and what they need to survive.

Description of a Painted Bunting

The male painted bunting is often described as the most beautiful bird in North America and as such has been nicknamed nonpareil, or “without equal.” Its colors, dark blue head, green back, red rump, and underparts, make it extremely easy to identify, but it can still be difficult to spot since it often skulks in foliage even when it is singing. The plumage of female and juvenile painted buntings is green and yellow-green, serving as camouflage. Once seen, the adult female is still distinctive, since it is a brighter, truer green than other similar songbirds. Adult painted buntings can measure 12–14 cm (4.7–5.5 in) in length, span 21–23 cm (8.3–9.1 in) across the wings and weigh 13–19 g (0.46–0.67 oz). With their vivid fusion of blue, green, yellow, and red, male Painted Buntings seem to have flown straight out of a child’s coloring book. Females and immatures are a distinctive bright green with a pale eyering. These fairly common finches breed in the coastal Southeast and in the south-central U.S., where they often come to feeders. They are often caught and sold illegally as cage birds, particularly in Mexico and the Caribbean, a practice that puts pressure on their breeding populations.

Hands on Activity

In lieu of an activity for this Café, we had a trivia night where Presenter Liani Yirka asked questions about the Café topic during her presentation. Prizes were awarded at the end of the evening.