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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. 

 
 

Comments:

Ruth Mills      2:33 AM Thu 6/23/2016

Thank you for your site! This was beautiful!
 

seeeee      9:12 AM Mon 11/3/2014

nice job
 

Jani Ow      9:57 PM Sat 9/20/2014

Hi Charly,

What a privilege to have witnessed such an awe-inspiring mating dance; these are moments that one is reminded of the presence of divinity.

I am reading your post from Malaysia, and this is my 1st year anniversary of keeping a pair of adorable budgies, my first pets.

Thank you very much for sharing :-)
 

Jani Ow      9:57 PM Sat 9/20/2014

Hi Charly,

What a privilege to have witnessed such an awe-inspiring mating dance; these are moments that one is reminded of the presence of divinity.

I am reading your post from Malaysia, and this is my 1st year anniversary of keeping a pair of adorable budgies, my first pets.

Thank you very much for sharing :-)
 

Johnson      7:45 AM Thu 7/10/2014

are you on Facebook?

 

John Daniel      11:18 AM Mon 4/7/2014

Enjoyed your web site. we chased the painted bunting when we lived in SW Oklahoma. loove your pictures and explinations. We have never observed this mating behavior. Your second bird, Mississippi Kite- we hand rasised a chick that was knowcked out of a nest. We kept it for almost a year when we were able to release it back into the wild. She returned several years in a row and would always dive bomb the house and Keee-Keeee-Keee at my wife.
Will look more later. John Daniel
Patty's Plants & Antiques
 

Karie Creeger      7:26 PM Thu 7/4/2013

I cannot believe you actually witnessed this! I have never seen one of these birds in person, let alone seen them mating. Your pictures of them in several different articles have been so beautiful I hope to get to see one in person someday. I live in Texas so maybe that will be possible.
 


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

Red
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)

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

Yellow
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)

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

Blue
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)

Grey
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)

Black
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)

Brown
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)

Various
Wild Birds of Northeast OK

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