The male painted bunting (Passerina ciris) is one of the most brightly colored songbirds in North America. The French name for the species, nonpareil (without equal), refers to its distinctive purple, blue, red, yellow and green plumage. Males attain adult plumage when two years old. Females are a yellowish green and resemble subadult males. The male’s song is a variable high-pitched warble. A recording can be heard on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macauley Library website.
The painted bunting is one of the most rapidly declining songbirds in the eastern United States. Florida breeding and winter season surveys show an astounding 4-6 percent annual decrease in this species' numbers. In some areas, counts have fallen from the hundreds to a mere handful.
The buntings seek brushy vegetation in open areas such as roadside thickets and edges of fields. They frequent backyard gardens, searching for seeds. They nest in the early successional shrub edges in coastal hammocks.
Breeding takes place in Atlantic coastal counties from northern Brevard County to the Georgia border. Painted buntings lay about four eggs in deep-cup nests of grass and sticks constructed at the end of branches, usually in Spanish moss.
The reason for their decline is a puzzle, although one suspect is the brown-headed cowbird, which lays its eggs in the nests of other songbirds rather than building its own. In the competition of nestlings for food, the faster-growing cowbirds win, often starving the young buntings and even ousting them from the nest. Another suspected reason for their decline is the illegal capture of hundreds of adults for the exotic pet trade, especially in the Caribbean.