If you live down south, you may have been treated to a sighting of this splendid and beautiful songbird at your feeder. While the plumage of females and immatures is green, the male Painted Bunting flashes bright hues, with a head of indigo blue, wings of green and a red breast. You would say he looks well-dressed for a tropical vacation, and that is precisely where these birds are headed this winter.
When it comes to the fall migration of the Painted Bunting, birders separate them into two groups, as the west birds have an altogether different migration pattern than their eastern counterparts.
The eastern birds travel as any other songbird. After the breeding season, they molt and eventually depart from their summer homes — coastal Carolinas, Georgia and northern Florida — to winter on the southern tip of Florida, as well as Cuba and the Bahamas. (However, in at least one case, a Painted Bunting became quite the media darling last fall when he showed up at a park in Brooklyn, New York.) If you live in southern Florida, in fact, this is their time! You may have already seen them newly arrived at your feeders as they settle in.
The so-called western (Lazuli) buntings, however, have a distinct migration style. These birds spend the summer breeding season in the south-central U.S., which includes Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Louisiana. Before arriving at their winter homes in southern Mexico and Central America, many travel to a stopover location that covers northwest coast of Mexico as well as southern Arizona. Here, they are stopping to molt. Some researchers think they benefit from the monsoon season, as food is plentiful and predators are rare. Many birds molt before migrating, because the new set of feathers helps them gain speed during the long flight. But while a two-stage migration is common in waterfowl, it is highly unusual for a songbird.
If you live in one of their breeding territories, start watching for them at your feeder after midsummer. Once their babies are hatched, they make the switch from insects to seeds. Keep your feeders stocked with Lyric’s Supreme Wild Bird Mix and bring some bright color into your life.