Painted Bunting

Passerina ciris



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Figure 3. Bow Display (A) and Wing-quiver Display (B) of the Painted Bunting.

Drawings by Barry W. Van Dusen.

Adult male Painted Bunting Wing-quiver Display, Titusville, Brevard Co., FL, 14 March.

Image via Birdshare: Danny Bales.


Walking, Hopping, Climbing, Etc.

Generally hops, but may walk in performing some displays.


See Agonistic behavior, below.


Preening, Head-Scratching, Stretching, Bathing, Anting, Etc

Preening movements not described. Reported to bathe frequently (Sprunt 1968b). No reports of anting.

Sleeping, Roosting, Sunbathing

No information.

Daily Time Budget

No quantitative studies.

Agonistic Behavior

Physical Interactions

Male-male fighting—involving pecking, buffeting with wings, and grappling—can occur in spring, ending in lost feathers, wounds, eye damage, and sometimes death (Wayne 1910, Sprunt 1968b).

Flutter-Up Display. Aerial interaction between males; birds approach each other with feet extended to grapple; may ascend with audible wing beats as high as 5 m before dropping to ground to disengage. Of 69 displays observed on St. Catherines I., GA, 36.2% were directed at neighboring pair, 36.2% at own mate and neighboring male, 26.1% at neighboring male alone (Lanyon and Thompson 1984).

Feather-Pulling. Male dives and hits flying female, drives her to ground and while on her back, pulls at her remix or rectrix for several seconds before flying off; 7 of 8 observed instances involved female other than mate (Lanyon and Thompson 1984).

Communicative Interactions

Upright Display. Given by male, usually on ground while hopping; extends head, appresses feathers, fully extends legs, and holds tail at 45–90° to body axis. Of 70 displays observed on St. Catherines I., GA, 40% directed at female other than mate, 12.9% at neighboring pair, 10% at own mate, 10% at neighboring male (Lanyon and Thompson 1984).

Bow Display. Figure 3A. Given by male toward a conspecific; rotates body axis, raises tail, and lowers head while lifting wings from body and lowering them to expose rump. Given when other bunting moves or by displaying bird immediately after changing perch. Of 104 displays observed, 29.8% were directed at a neighboring pair, 17.3% at its own mate with a neighboring male, 14.4% at mate, 13.5% at a female other than the mate (Lanyon and Thompson 1984).

Wing-Quiver Display. Figure 3B. Given by the male after perching next to another bunting; erects body feathers, lifts wings from body and lowers and quivers them, and raises tail about 45°. Display ends when the non-displaying bird departs or is chased. Of 43 displays observed, 37.2% were directed at a neighboring male, 27.9% in response to playback of Painted Bunting song, 16.3% in an unknown context or with no other bunting present (Lanyon and Thompson 1984).

Butterfly Flight. Characterized by slow, deep wing beats and undulating flight; body feathers appear appressed. Usually between males. Of 33 displays observed, 39.4% directed at neighboring male, 27.3% at own mate with neighboring male, 18.2% at a neighboring pair (Lanyon and Thompson 1984).

Moth Flight. Manner of slow, descending flight when male flies during Wing-Quiver Displays; erects body feathers and flutters extended wings (n = 11 during 1,800 h observation; Lanyon and Thompson 1984).

Body-Fluff Display. See Stokes and Stokes 1983. In male-male interactions, male faces opponent, body held horizontal, red breast and green back feathers strongly fluffed, and feathers of red eye-ring conspicuously raised. Song during display is same as “normal” song (see Sounds: vocalizations, above) but initially given softly; first-year males (without colors) perform in the same way (Thompson 1965).

Male-male interactions may incorporate more than one of these displays—Upright Display, Wing-Quiver Display, Bow Display, and Body-Fluff Display—and may escalate into attacks and Flutter-Up Display (see Thompson 1964b).



In Oklahoma, 1 measured territory was 1.13 ha, a size similar to “several” others (Parmelee 1959). In Taney Co., Missouri, average territory 3.15 ha (range 0.64–6.66, n = 19), but these territories are not all contiguous; mean territory size for isolated males 3.92 ha (n = 13), for males having adjoining bunting territories, 1.44 ha (n = 6; Norris 1982, Norris and Elder 1982b).

On Sapelo I., McIntosh Co., Georgia, movements limited to about 2 ha for radio-tracked birds (10 males, 10 females; J. M. Meyers, E. G. Springborn, and L. K. Duncan unpubl.), but fixed-kernel home range values were 3.5 ha (females) and 3.1 ha (males) in unmanaged maritime shrub, and 4.7 ha (females) and 7.0 ha (males) in pine-oak forests (Springborn and Meyers 2005). On St. Catherines I., Liberty Co., Georgia, measured activity space (i.e., “territory”) averaged 1.96 ha ± 0.77 SD (range 0.92–3.68, n = 33); territories in preferred habitat tended to be smaller (Finke 1979). Competition for high-quality territories (forest edge bordering salt marsh) on St. Catherines I. was intense, and these territories tended to be smaller than forest interior territories (SML). Higher quality of forest edge territories over forest interior territories was presumed by greater abundance of marsh grasshoppers and prevalence of polygynous mating. In one 2-yr sequence, 19 of 20 males retained the same territory from a previous year; in succeeding 2-yr sequence, 12 of 13 males did so (Lanyon and Thompson 1986). Some immature (second-year) males have been found to acquire territories and mates and to successfully raise young (Lanyon and Thompson 1986; see also Tipton and Tipton 1978).

Vigorously defends territories and chases trespassing males (Parmelee 1959); vigorous response to intruders has served as means to capture males by using cage birds or mounts as decoys for traps (Audubon 1841, Parmelee 1959).

Individual Distance

No specific data. In Aug, Painted Buntings begin to flock at food sources (SML). Overwintering birds are found singly or in small flocks (Howell and Webb 1995).

Sexual Behavior

Mating System And Sex Ratio

Sex ratio unknown.

Pair Bond

Mostly monogamous, but some polygyny. In Oklahoma, only 1 instance of 2 females nesting on territory of a single male (Parmelee 1959). In a 3-yr Georgia study, 36 males monogamous, 12 polygynous, and 2 unmated (some males were counted separately in different years; Finke 1979). Pairs apparently stay together for second brood; males assume care of fledglings as female starts second clutch (Parmelee 1959).

Courtship Displays

Courtship. Male gives Courtship Display on ground (mostly), where he “flattens himself out, spreads his wings and tail, and fluffs his plumage much like a miniature turkey gobbler. The display actions are rather jerky and stiff, with alternating periods of activity and stillness” (Sprunt 1968b: 140). Male hops about close to female with body low on flexed legs, neck stretched, and head up and back, fluttering wings (Parmelee 1959). The same display, or major components of it, has been observed in flight (G. M. Sutton in Parmelee 1959); male gave flight display over distance of 25 m flying in front of female with spread tail and head up, and “manipulated his wings in such a manner that they appeared to be fluttering in flight” (Parmelee 1959). Female may appear to ignore the displaying male and peck at the ground; or respond with a Solicitation Display (see below); courtship is not always followed by copulation; copulations observed only before or during egg laying (Parmelee 1959, Lanyon and Thompson 1984).

Typical courtship sequence (Lanyon and Thompson 1984): Male in Moth Flight (see Agonistic behavior, above) lands 1–2 m away from the female on the ground; facing away from the female, the male gives Wing-Quiver Display (see Agonistic Behavior, above); female may hop toward the male, male walks (not hops) away; rate of Wing-Quiver Display increases, and wings are alternately extended above the back; male walks toward the female with both wings extended over the back, and when <1 m from the female flies to and hovers over her; either copulation follows or the female drives off the male.

Solicitation Display. Female crouches with head back and tail up and forward; contexts of 45 Solicitation Displays: 24 with mate, 11 with mate and other male, 7 with mate and other pair, 2 with other male, 1 with mate and other female (Lanyon and Thompson 1984).

Extra-Pair Copulations

Females solicited in presence of male other than their mates (2 of 45 in presence of only male other than mate), and extra-pair copulations “occasionally” observed at St. Catherines I., Georgia (Lanyon and Thompson 1984). Females noted to respond to playbacks (SML).

Social and Interspecific Behavior

Degree Of Sociality

Strongly territorial at beginning of breeding season. Juveniles form flocks when becoming independent of adult care; by Aug, flocks >50 birds noted in Georgia (SML). Adults may be found in small flocks on overwintering grounds (Rappole and Warner 1980, Howell and Webb 1995).


No information.

Nonpredatory Interspecific Interactions

In Charleston Co., South Carolina, male Painted Bunting and Indigo Bunting were observed chasing the other species 5 times in encounters (Forsythe 1974). In s. Missouri, where these species maintain overlapping territories, male Painted Bunting was seen to chase male Indigo Bunting only once (Norris 1982).

Painting Bunting once seen to strike and chase a Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) from near the bunting nest; Great Crested Flycatcher (Myiarchus crinitus) seen chasing a Painted Bunting once (Parmelee 1959). Painted Buntings pursued or attacked Field Sparrows (Spizella pusilla) and Chipping Sparrows (S. passerina) during early stages of territory establishment (Norris 1982).

In overwintering areas, readily joins flocks of other seed-eating birds (Howell and Webb 1995).


Kinds Of Predators

Predators of adults likely similar to those of other small, woodland birds. Snakes—coachwhip snakes (Masticophis flagellum), common kingsnake (Lampropeltis getula), racer (Coluber constrictor), rat snake (Elaphe obsoleta)—seen taking, or trying to take, Painted Bunting nestlings (Parmelee 1959). Nest predators in Lousiana included rat snakes and Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula; Vasseur and Leberg 2015). Ants (Formicidae: Hymenoptera) caused mortality at 1 nest (Parmelee 1959).

Response To Predators

Male Painted Buntings seen to follow Blue Jays (Cyanocitta cristata) and Common Grackles with loud calls, when these potential predators were near bunting nests (Lanyon and Thompson 1984). Adults gave Alarm Notes (see Sounds: vocalizations, above) and “frantic flutterings” in response to a coachwhip snake (Parmelee 1959). When disturbed at the nest, female silently leaves, but male may respond from cover with “sharp, scolding, jerky manner” (Strecker 1893).

Recommended Citation

Lowther, P. E., S. M. Lanyon, and C. W. Thompson (2015). Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.