The Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) is probably America’s most colorful bird and is always a welcome sight. These gorgeous members of the Cardinalidae family occur in two separate migratory populations in the United States - one on the Southeast coast from Florida to North Carolina and the other centered around Texas.
So what do Painted Buntings eat, and can they be attracted to bird feeders?
Painted Buntings use their strong conical bills to feed on the seeds of many types of grass, forbs, and other plants. However, they vary their diet at times of the year to switch to protein-rich insects and other invertebrates.
Painted Buntings regularly visit bird feeding stations. However, they are shy and show clear preferences for certain smaller seeds. Males steal the show with their bright colors and can be very aggressive toward other males in their breeding territory.
These birds are not territorial in the winter when they often feed together with other birds like Indigo Buntings.
Read on to learn about the diet of the Painted Bunting. An exquisite American songbird of the south.
Painted Bunting feeding on Millet Spray Seeds
Painted Buntings utilize two distinct food sources at different times of the year. They are typical seed eaters, although they eat mostly insects in the spring and early summer.
Painted Buntings eat the seeds from wild grass plants, forbs, trees, and other plants. They also feed on the seeds of some agricultural crops like wheat and enjoy millet, nyjer, and other small bird seeds at feeding stations.
Painted Buntings eat the following seeds:
A pair of male Painted Buntings feeding on seeds
Painted Buntings switch to a diet of insects and other invertebrates during the breeding season. Both adults and young capitalize on the abundance of protein-rich bugs during the warmer months of spring and early summer.
Painted Buntings feed on the following invertebrates:
Painted Buntings occasionally eat fruits and berries, although these are not typical food sources. They are more likely to eat the seeds of fruit like figs.
Continue reading to learn how and when Painted Buntings find their food.
Painted Bunting feeding on an insect
Painted Buntings eat each day. Birdwatchers can see them foraging throughout the day in favorable weather conditions.
Despite their loud colors, Painted Buntings are generally shy and retiring birds. Once found, they will visit feeders regularly and become habituated in time. Banding studies have shown that the same individuals may return to the same backyards year after year, so your patience and persistence can really pay off.
Painted Buntings are natural ground feeders, so platform feeders are the best choice. Caged feeders are also a great choice because they allow the Buntings to feed without competition from larger, more aggressive bird species.
Painted Buntings will feed from various bird feeder styles that hold smaller bird seeds, however. Tube feeders with perches and nyjer seed finch feeders are also good options.
Painted Buntings are strictly diurnal birds. They are active throughout the daylight hours.
Female Painted Bunting visiting a bird feeder
Painted Buntings do most of their winter foraging on the ground. They hop around, frequently pausing to search the floor for seeds. These industrious birds will also grasp the stalks of seeding grass plants to pull the seed head to the ground where they can reach them.
Painted Buntings make a dramatic diet switch after migrating to their breeding range. So how do they find their food in the spring?
Painted Buntings search high and low for invertebrates in the warmer months. They don’t limit their search to the ground and will forage as high as thirty feet (10 m) up in trees in search of a meal. They are even known to steal spiders and their prey from webs.
Painted Buntings focus on seeds and other plant material in the winter.
Painted Buntings switch to insects and other invertebrates in the spring and early summer.
Female Painted Buntings feed their chicks a diet of insects. Grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, and their larvae are all regular prey items.
Keep reading to learn how you can attract and feed Painted Buntings on your property.
Painted Bunting foraging for food amongst the foliage
Feeding wild Painted Buntings is perfectly fine as long as you maintain sanitary conditions and provide only fresh, healthy foods. These birds are in decline, and monitoring the numbers of backyard birds is helping scientists keep track of their numbers and movements.
However, backyard bird feeding stations can be a source of disease for birds if not cleaned regularly. Large numbers of birds perching and eliminating in the same vicinity can create a hotspot for diseases like salmonellosis and aspergillosis.
Sweep or vacuum up old food and disinfect feeders regularly to keep your backyard birds happy and healthy.
Painted Buntings show a strong preference for white proso millet. This small and rounded seed is common in birdseed mixes. It should not be confused with the larger red millet or milo seed which these birds don’t seem to enjoy as much.
These birds will happily feed on mixed wild bird seed, but a bag of white millet seed is the best bet if you want to attract Painted Buntings specifically.
Painted Buntings show a strong preference for white proso millet
Do not feed Painted Buntings any old or moldy seeds. Store your bird food out of the sun in a dry, airtight container to keep it fresher for longer.
Painted Buntings drink fresh water. They are often attracted to shallow water sources like bird baths.
Birdwatchers can attract Painted Buntings to their backyards by providing food, water, and natural foraging and nesting habitats. They prefer thick, low vegetation of native grasses and shrubs for foraging.
Painted Buntings are also likely to visit freshwater sources and bird feeders with their favorite seeds in yards with their preferred habitats. Be sure to position your birdbath and bird feeders in a safe place where the Buntings can avoid window collisions and hungry cats.
Painted Buntings are wonderful songbirds to have around. Unfortunately, these brightly colored birds are declining due to habit loss and trapping, so having them visit your backyard is a real privilege.
The males are highly territorial in the breeding season and can be very aggressive towards other males, but that’s all part of their natural behavior.
Close up view of a front-facing Painted Bunting enjoying bird seeds from a backyard feeder
Painted Buntings would probably enjoy mealworms during the breeding season when they switch to a diet of insects. Mealworms will also attract other welcome visitors like Eastern Bluebirds.
Painted Buntings will feed on Nyjer seed when available. Nyjer/ thistle seed is also a great option for other colorful birds like American Goldfinches.
Painted Buntings will eat sunflower seed, although it is not their preferred food source. Smaller birdseed varieties like white millet are favored.
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