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Eastern Painted Bunting Population Assessment and Monitoring

The painted bunting (Passer ciris) is a medium-sized cardinaline finch with distinctive plumage. Adult males are brightly colored with a purple-blue head and nape, red eye-ring, yellow-green back and red underparts and rump. Plumage of females and immature males is a distinctive yellow-green. 

Painted buntings occur in two geographically distinct breeding populations: a western population that ranges from extreme northwest Florida across Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma and parts of Mexico; and an eastern population limited to coastal areas from North Carolina to northeast Florida and inland along large rivers. The eastern population winters in south and central Florida, Cuba, Jamaica and the Bahamas. The two populations differ in range, timing and pattern of molt, timing of migration and morphological characteristics. Two subspecies are recognized; however, genetic studies could reveal population differences warrant two species. 

Painted buntings breed along the northeast coast of Florida, from the state line south to Merritt Island. Breeding habitat of the eastern population includes partly open areas with scattered brush and trees. 

Based on Breeding Bird Surveys, the eastern population of the painted bunting has exhibited an annual average decline of 4.6 percent since 1966. The causes of the population decline are unknown, but the narrow geographic range of the eastern population makes it vulnerable to habitat loss and fragmentation, and local extinction. Painted buntings are illegally trapped and sold as caged birds, and this loss may also contribute to population decline. 

The FWC participated in a cooperative rangewide effort to monitor the eastern population of the painted bunting. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and U.S. Geological Survey developed the sampling design, which provided a basis for allocating survey points across the range of the eastern painted bunting in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina. In Florida, 20 clusters of six monitoring stations each were located in coastal areas from the state line to Merritt Island, and inland along the St. Johns River. From mid-May to July, observers recorded all painted buntings seen or heard during a five-minute count at each station on three separate days. 

With the information from this study, biologists can gain a better understanding of the status of the eastern painted bunting than can be attained from existing population estimates such as the Breeding Bird Survey. Land managers can now develop habitat-specific density estimates that will guide management actions and research plans.