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Frequent Flyer: Painted bunting

This masterpiece flew off the canvas and into the Lowcountry.

Story by Lucy Elam  +  Photos Courtesy of Wild Birds Unlimited

The painted bunting is aptly named for its beautiful brushstroke plumage. This rainbow-hued bird is a coveted sight when breeding season brings them to the Southeast coast. Their spring migration to South Carolina typically begins in early April, and they might stick around until August. Male painted buntings stake out large territories, claim their lands with jubilant song and defend them fiercely. Scuffles with intruding males can lead to death. The lime-green females build the nest and lay three or four eggs at a time and up to three broods per year. Outside of the breeding season it is rare to spot these elusive beauties, and their numbers are declining as the scrubby underbrush that these birds prefer is being done away with in order to make room for pristinely manicured landscaping. In addition, their vivid appearance puts them at risk of being illegally sold as caged birds, which puts pressure on their breeding populations. You can attract one of the most colorful birds in North America by using a feeder in a yard with low, dense vegetation. Seeds and insects are their favored diet during the summer months.

Fun Facts

  • The French name of the painted bunting, nonpareil, means “without equal,” a reference to the bird’s dazzling plumage. 
  • The oldest recorded wild painted bunting was at least 12 years old, as reported from a Florida banding study.       
  • In 1841 John James Audubon reported that “thousands” of the colorful birds were caught every spring and shipped from New Orleans to Europe, where they fetched more than 100 times the price when sold as caged birds. They are still illegally trapped and sold in large numbers in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and, to a lesser extent, in Florida, despite efforts by conservationists to curb illegal trade.

Where to see them 

  • First, you must find … another shrubbery!
  • Thickets
  • Woodland edges 
  • Hunting Island State Park Nature Center 

Painted bunting essentials

Find a full line of feeders, seeds and accessories for backyard bird feeding at Wild Birds Unlimited in Festival Centre at Indigo Park on Hilton Head Island, which is now under new ownership.


  • EcoTough 9″ x 9″ Tray Bird Feeder
  • EcoTough Covered Ground Tray


  • White millet
  • Select Blend