Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Winter Painted Bunting

Years ago, before the paved recreation trail or the clearing for the Berlin Myers Parkway extension, we were walking down a dirt rut through the grass along the Sawmill Branch Creek and heard a male bird vigorously singing on his territory. Once visually located, the splash of colors we observed screamed, "Tropical rainforest bird!" This was the first time we had seen (or heard of) a Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) and we assumed it was a non-native escapee from a cage in someone's sunroom. A perfunctory check of our field guide for birds of North America showed that the Painted Bunting is indeed native to South Carolina...at least for part of the year.

Along with a host of other bird species, Painted Buntings migrate south to warmer habitats during our winter months. Yesterday, however, Merrill Robling documented a male Painted Bunting feeding in their Summerville backyard. According to Audubon South Carolina's Director of Bird Conservation Jeff Mollenhauer, "There is a small percentage of Painted Buntings that remain in South Carolina during the winter. This photo is of an adult male though many of the Painted Buntings that remain in South Carolina during the winter are immature males. It is hard to say for sure why they stay. These may be birds that were not able to migrate or they may be playing the odds. If they are able to survive the winter, then they will have first pick of territories in the spring. Big risk, but also a big payoff."

Don't forget that the Great Backyard Bird Count will be held February 13-16. By participating and reporting all the birds that you see, you can help scientist "see" where birds are during this winter snapshot, which can lead to answers to questions like, "Why are Painted Buntings still here?"

Images by Don Wuori and Merrill Robling (at feeder)

1/14/09 - While looking for a bird migration map, we came across this 2002 article from Cornell Lab of Ornithology entitled "The Danger of Beauty," which describes the capture of Painted Buntings for sale as caged birds.

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