Photos and article by Kathryn Mann
Without a doubt the Painted Bunting is the most beautiful bird in North America. It is also one of the most difficult birds to find. They spend most of their time high up in dense forests. When they feed they fly down to areas of tall grass and flowers that usually hide them except for a brief glance. The best time I have found to get close to them is when they fly out of their cover to drink water from a small puddle.
Painted Bunting in a tree in Bartlesville, Oklahoma. This is from a large wooded area that was partly developed last year and there are no more Painted Buntings in this forest.
The painted bunting population has been in significant decline throughout the United States for the last thirty years primarily because of loss of habitat and because they are often caught and sold for pets in their wintering areas in Central America, Mexico, and Cuba. Oklahoma is one of only four states that has a significant sized Painted Bunting population, and I found that they have even disappeared from several areas in northeast Oklahoma where I could regularly find them in the just a few years ago.
On top of a forest canopy in norheast Oklahoma. On the right is a Painted Bunting, and on the left is a Mockingbird that was mimicing the Bunting's song.
I found this Painted Bunting off Highway 60 between Bartlesville and Nowata in a dense thicket of grass and shrubs.
Painted Buntings are small birds, less than five inches in length, about the size of a sparrow. It is the male Painted Bunting that is so colorful. It has a blue head, a yellow-green back, and is red underneath. Males are also among the most aggressively territorial birds in the world, and will sometimes fight to their death defending it. The female Painted Bunting has a solid yellow-green shade, making her even more difficult to spot than the male, and can be easily confused with several similar sized and colored birds.
This juvenile painted bunting was flying up to the stems of nearby tall grass to extract seeds.
The best way to find Painted Buntings is to listen carefully for their unique song, and then look up into nearby trees where you can occassionally spot a male singing at the top of one. I have a favorite grove near Bartlesville that still has Painted Bunting population.
The Painting Bunting is nicknamed "Nonpareil", which in French means "without equal", which I think is highly appropriate for such a spectacular bird.