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The Amazing Mating Ritual of the Painted Bunting

article and photos by Charly Mann

I have become enamored with observing perhaps the most beautiful and least studied bird in the world – the Painted Bunting. As its population declines and it remains especially elusive because it spends most of its time high in densely leaved trees, thickets, hedgerows, or submerged in thick ground cover, I have been focused on getting close to, and discovering, as much as I can about their lives in their natural habitat in Oklahoma.

© Charly Mann

Male Painted Bunting moments after landing in open area before flattening himself in first step of mating ritual 

The most amazing thing I have witnessed with these unique birds is their mating ritual. It is almost as astounding as the courtship dance of the Birds of paradise which are found in the rainforests of Indonesia and New Guinea, yet is much more rare to be seen in its entirety. In fact I found dozens of videos of the extravagant dance of various species of birds of paradise on the Internet, but I could find none of the Painted Bunting. Luckily I have witnessed and photographed the elaborate and colorful mating ceremony of the Painted Bunting which I will describe and share photos of in this article.

© Charly Mann

Female Painted Bunting arriving after hearing male's mating sounds

The first step in the union is the return of the brightly colored male Painted Buntings from their wintering grounds along the east coast of Mexico and Panama to Oklahoma in mid to late April. They usually come back to the same area they lived in the year before. Each male claims an area of about three acres which he bravely defends against other males.

© Charly Mann

Painted Bunting couple beginning their mating dance

The majority of female Painted Buntings return to their nesting grounds in Oklahoma in mid-May. When they arrive the males are anxious to begin courting their potential mates. In some areas there are two or more females for each male, but in others where there are no females a male will invade another male's territory looking for a partner. This usually results in fierce battles between the defender and the invader male Painted Bunting.

The mating ceremony begins when a male flies down from the forest canopy onto a clear flat area of at least ten feet by ten feet. He then almost disappears into the ground as he flattens himself by compressing his torso and spreading out his wings and tail. As he does this he begins making a pulsating sound that inspires a female bunting to come out into the open and land within five feet of him.

At this time the male raises himself slightly off the ground and points his head directly at the sky and begins proudly crouching toward the female without ever looking directly at her. This performance so enraptures the female that she raises both her head and rump at a 45-degree angle signaling to the male that his theatrics are beginning to turn her on.

© Charly Mann

Male Painted Bunting gracefully moves with his head up high during first movement of mating routine

Next the female hurriedly rushes toward her approaching partner until she abruptly stops right before colliding.  The male's head is still at a 90-degree angle, while the female's head is positioned directly over the male's neck. This has all been beautifully choreographed and now the love dance gets more serious.

© Charly Mann

The male and female end the first phase of their mating dance with this pose

The male now comes up from his crouch and brings his head down and turned to the right like a tango dancer. He then gracefully dances more than a foot away from the female. At the same time the female moves forward by a few steps and lifts her rear even higher.

© Charly Mann

© Charly Mann

The second part of the mating dance has the male and female rhythmically moving apart and together again 

Abruptly now the male becomes fully upright raising his tail and extending his feathers into a red, green, and blue fan that almost immediately starts flapping rapidly as he moves toward the backside of the female. At the same time the female's cloaca swells and protrudes outside her body. The male then rhythmically bobs and weaves closer with his feathers vibrating until he raised himself about two inches in the air and mounts himself on the female for about twenty seconds of joyous copulation. After witnessing this event I knew I had seen something remarkable that I would probably never see again.

© Charly Mann

The female stops and displays her sex organ as her last step in the mating dance

© Charly Mann

The final act of the mating dance

In the last six years there has been a large decline in painted buntings population. One key factor for this has been the rise of wind turbine farms that can decimate migrating bird populations. Another key factor is that the beautiful males are being captured by the thousands in Mexico every year and shipped to Europe where they are sold as pets. The painted bunting is perhaps too beautiful to survive much longer in the wild.

© Charly Mann

A happy male soon after mating


All photos and this article are copyrighted by Charly Mann 2013 and may not be used without permission. 


The Carolina Chickadee - A True Audubon Bird

Article and photos by Charly Mann

The Carolina Chickadee was actually named by James Audubon (1785-1851) the United States most important wildlife artist.

Carolina Chickadee Close-up
Carolina Chickadee close-up showing his acrobatic skill

The Carolina Chickadee has a black cap, throat, and back, with gray wings and a white underside. They are a very small bird, only 5 inches long.

Carolina Chickadees build their nests in trees. They actually can dig out holes in trees that have a soft area weakened by termites or a fungus, but usually choose an abandoned woodpecker hole or a natural cavity in a tree.

Carolina Chickadee singing
Carolina Chickadee at the break of dawn near the Prairie National Wild Horse Refuge just West of Bartlesville 

Some Carolina Chickadees have lived more than 10 years.

Chickadees are great acrobats and can eat upside down. They primarily feed on insects and seeds, and are hunted by hawks and owls.

New-Born Carolina Chickadee
New-born Chickadee learning to walk across a narrow branch

Chickadees are very territorial birds, and there are three separate small groups of trees in northeast Oklahoma where I find these creatures almost every month of the year.

Carolina Chickadee profile
My little Carolina Chickadee

The most famous expression of the comedian W.C. Fields was "my little chickadee," which was also the title of the movie he starred in with Mae West in 1940. Mae West wrote the script for the movie, so should be credited with creating the expression.


Painted Buntings Sightings

by Charly Mann

While the Painted Bunting can be found throughout Oklahoma and many other southern states, seeing one up close is a rare sight. Painted Buntings, like most other birds, usually make their home in the same area every year, and we have found four of five places of less than 20 acres near Bartlesville where we regularly first hear and then see them. We would love it if you would provide us with the location that you see these beautiful birds. Their population seems to be in decline, and there are several areas where we use to regularly find them that no longer have any of these birds.

This is our first post in Oklahoma Birds and Butterflies in over a year. We are taking more great bird and butterfly photos that ever, and have moved up from a 400mm to a 600mm lens, but just have not found the time to add more articles and pictures.


Orchard Oriole - Vibrant and Elusive Visitor

Article and photos by Charly Mann

Orchard Orioles are one of the most distinctive and elusive birds in Oklahoma. Even though they often live close to open fields, they spend most of their time in nearby trees or near the ground strategically hidden in tall grass. I often catch glimpses of these birds, but they usually quickly disappear into a tree or dense vegetation before I can get close enough to take a photograph.

Orchard Oriole close-up
Orchard Oriole in late May 2009 outside of Bartlesville

Male Orchard Orioles have bluish a black head, back wings, and back. Most of the rest of their body is a vibrant chestnut brown. Their feathers are edged with white, and they have a thin white wing bar. Female Orchard Orioles look very different from males. They are olive-green on top, and greenish yellow below. They have light brownish wings with two white wing bars. Females are often hard to distinguish from several other species of similar looking birds including warblers.

Female Orchard Oriole
Female Orchard Oriole from July 1010. Sitting next to her on this fence were three of her newborn.

Orchard Orioles are the smallest oriole in North America measuring only 6 inches in length.

Orchard Oriole profile
Orchard Oriole sitting in a small grove of trees by a cow pasture 

Orchard Orioles primarily eat grasshoppers crickets, beetles, and spiders, but also enjoy seeds and flower nectar.

Orchard Oriole up close
Male Orchard Oriole looking for insects

Orchard Orioles are only temporary visitors to North America. They live most of the year, from August through April in Central America and northwestern South America. They migrate at night, and part of their journey requires them to cross over the Gulf of Mexico.


The Highly Intelligent American Crow

Article and photos by Kathryn Mann

Perhaps no bird is easier to recognize than the all-black American Crow. They are a common sight throughout Oklahoma. I often see them in trees, fields, and even my local Wal-Mart parking lot. They usually feed on the ground and will eat almost anything including garbage, insects, seeds, frogs, carrion, and fruit.

American Crow up-close
American Crow in Bartlesville field having an early breakfast

American Crows are very social animals and are usually found in groups.

The American Crow's most common call is its loud "caw caw", but they can also mimic the voices of other animals including humans. I have heard several crows say "Hello", and one very clearly saying "I want to fly". It is illegal to keep crows as pets, but they are very trainable, loyal, curious, fearless, and highly intelligent, and people who have raised them say they are great companions though they do not like being placed in a cage. It is actually not uncommon for a wild crow to become comfortable enough with a human that a lifelong bond of friendship is formed. In many of these cases the crow will come in the person's house for food and visit, and wait on a particular tree in the morning to greet their friend when they come outside.

American Crows store excess food and can sometimes be seen burying it on the ground or hiding it in a tree hole.

Pet American Crow
This American Crow greeted me with a "caw caw caw" as I approached to photograph him

One American Crow lived almost 30 years, and many live longer than a decade.

American Crows are all black, even their legs and bill, but when they molt, their old feathers often look brown. Males and females look identical.


Mississippi Kite information and pictures

Photos and article by Kathryn Mann

I have been enjoying the outdoors of Oklahoma for many years and have found that many birds return to the same area every year. There is a Mississippi Kite that loves to perch on the same branch of the same tree every Spring and Summer. As we have become more familiar with one another he actually lets me come within 20 feet without feeling threatened or disturbed. This is a good thing because these birds are very protective and will often swoop down and attack people they feel are potential threats. They are a very quiet bird and rarely make a sound except when frightened.

Mississippi Kite perching
Mississippi Kite perching on his favorite spot in northeast Oklahoma 

Even though Mississippi Kites often live in colonies, I have only once seen another Kite within even a quarter mile of this one's roost. In the wild Misssippi Kites often live 10 years.

Mississippi Kite grea tpicture
Mississippi Kite staring at me as I come very close to his lookout

The Mississippi Kite is a raptor like a hawk or falcon. Their wingspan is three feet long and they are typically a foot and half long at maturity. They have dark red eyes with a light grey head that appears to be white in bright sun. The rest of their body is battleship grey and their wing feathers are black.

Mississippi Kite hunting
This Mississippi Kite has just spotted a meal and is about to take to the air

Despite their size Mississippi Kites rarely weigh more than 12 ounces which makes their bodies especially buoyant as they glide through the air capturing insects. It is not unusual for them to stay aloft looking for prey for several hours at a time. Besides insects they sometimes eat rodents, lizards, frogs, snakes, and even fish that reside in shallow water. Farmers like these birds because they especially love eating grasshoppers and cicadas, both of which they capture in the air.

Mississippi Kites have one of the longest migrations of any bird. They spend the Fall and Winter in South America as far down as Argentina and then return in late April or May to the central part of the United States, usually no further north than where I live in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. That is a distance of about 5,500 miles in each direction.


Uplifting Visions
a guide to happiness, good health, and success
Charly Mann in a Hawaiian shirt
by Charly Mann

From the age of seven I have been enchanted with the idea of living happily ever after, and have made it a life quest to find that answer. I have spoken to hundreds of people – usually older and wiser than me, and read countless books and articles on the subject. In my website Uplifting Visions I share what I consider the best insights I have learned about achieving happiness in life.

Oklahoma Birds Listed by Color

House Finch - male (carpodacus mexicanus)
Purple Finch - male (carpodacus purpureus)
Northern Cardinal - male (cardinalis cardinalis)
Painted Bunting - male (passerina ciris)
Summer Tanager - male (piranga rubra)

Baltimore Oriole - male (icterus galbula)
Orchard Oriole - male (icterus spurius)

Yellow Warbler (dendroica petechia )
Baltimore Oriole - female (icterus galbula)
Orchard Oriole - female (icterus spurius)
Summer Tanager - female (piranga rubra)
Yellow Goldfinch - male (carduelis tristis)
Western Kingbird (tyrannus verticalis)
Eastern Meadowlark (sturnella magna)

Malard - male (anas platyrhynchos)
Dark-eyed Junco - female (junco hyemalis)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (archilochus colubris)
Painted Bunting - female (passerina ciris)
Green Heron (butorides virescens)

Barn Swallow (hirundo rustica)
Belted Kingfisher (ceryle alcyon)
Blue Jay (cyanocitta cristata)
Blue Grosbeak - male (guiraca caerulea)
Eastern Bluebird (sailia sialis)
Indigo Bunting - male (passerina cyanea)
Purple Martin - male (progne subis)

Great Blue Heron (ardea herodias)
Carolina Chickadee (poecile carolinensis)
Eastern Screech-Owl (otus asio)
Red-breasted Nuthatch (sitta canadensis)
Grey Catbird (dumetella carolinensis)
Ruby-crowned Kinglet (regulus calendula)
Scissor-Tailed Flycatcher (tyrannus forficatus)
White-breasted Nuthatch (sitta carolinensis)
Tufted Titmouse (baelophus bicolor)
American Robin (turdus migratorius)
Northern Mockingbird (mimus polyglottos)
Mississippi Kite (ictinia mississippiensis)
Dickcissel (spiza americana)

American Crow (corvus brachyrhynchos)
Brown-headed Cowbird - male (molothrus ater)
European Starling (sturnus vulgaris)
Common Grackle (quiscalus quiscula)
Red-winged Blackbird - male (agelaius phoeniceus)
Spotted Towhee (pipilo maculatus)
Turkey Vulture (cathartes aura)

Black & White
American Bald Eagle (haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Black-billed Magpie (pica hudsonia)
Downey Woodpecker (picoides pubescens)
Red-Bellied Woodpecker (melanerpes carolinus)
Purple Martin - female (progne subis)
Eastern Kingbird (tyrannus tyrannus)
Dark-eyed Junco - male (junco hyemalis)
Loggerhead Shrike (lanius ludovicianus)

American Kestrel (falco sparverius)
Blue Grosbeak - female (guiraca caerulea)
Brown-headed Cowbird - female (molothrus ater)
Brown Thrasher (toxostoma rufum)
Common Nighthawk (chordeiles minor)
Carolina Wren (thryothorus ludovicianus)
Cedar Waxwing (bombycilla cedrorum)
Greater Roadrunner (geococcyx californianus)
Killdeer (charadrius vociferus)
Northern Bobwhite (colinus virginianus)
Red-tailed Hawk (buteo jamaicensis)
Cliff Swallow (petrochelidon pyrrhonota)
Horned Lark (eremophila alpestris)
House Finch - female (carpodacus mexicanus)
Northern Flicker (colaptes auratus)
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (coccyzus americanus)
Mourning Dove (zenaida macroura)
Malard - female (anas platyrhynchos)
Purple Finch - female (carpodacus purpureus)
House Sparrow (passer domesticus)
Indigo Bunting - female (passerina cyanea)
Red-winged Blackbird - female (agelaius phoeniceus)
Spotted Sandpiper (actitis macularia)
Upland Sandpiper (bartramia longicauda)
Northern Cardinal - female (cardinalis cardinalis)
Eastern Screech-Owl (otus asio)
Yellow Goldfinch - female (carduelis tristis)
Canada Goose (branta canadensis)

Wild Birds of Northeast OK

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