How Can I Attract Painted Buntings?
I’m trying to attract Painted Buntings – they used to come to my yard but evidently whatever they liked to eat is no longer growing here.
Thanks for your question. You are fortunate to live in part of the country where you get to see these wonderful birds. Their range in the U.S. is limited to the Southeast and South-Central region. Both populations migrate in the winter, although to different areas. The Southeast population overwinters in Florida and the northern Caribbean; the South-Central population makes its way to southern Mexico and Central America. They all need our help as their habitat and food sources are dwindling, and their conservation status is “near threatened.”
The male Painted Buntings are truly striking, sporting an array of Crayola box colors – blue, green, red and yellow; the females and immature birds have a more subtle green coloration and are referred to as “Greenies.” To help these birds in your landscape, you need to provide what I call “The Big 4” – nesting sites, cover, food, and a fresh water source.
Being shrub and scrub nesters, Painted Buntings like dense, shrubby or grassy vegetation and prefer to nest no more than 6 feet from the ground. Increase the number of dense shrubs and sub-shrubs in your landscape and include some smaller trees and evergreens for safe haven. If you can plant masses of tall native grasses, this will also create some habitat. Please note that if you have cats, keep them indoors. Shrub nesting birds have very little chance of survival when stalked by domestic or feral cats.
Painted Buntings eat seeds for most of the year, but switch over to insects in the breeding season. Like most terrestrial birds in North America, they feed insects to their young. If you have a diverse mix of native plantings, and don’t spray pesticides, you should be able to support a nice population of tasty insects.
Since seeds are Painted Buntings’ forage of choice for much of the year, include a diverse mix of native plants timed to provide seed throughout most of the year. For early seeds, include sedges (Carex species). These are grass-like plants which flower in the spring, much earlier than most native grasses and accordingly set seed much earlier. As with any plantings, make sure to put the right plant in the right place – some sedges prefer moisture and shade, some tolerate sunnier, drier conditions. There are many sedges which are native to Georgia, including: Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania Sedge), Carex platyphylla (Silver Sedge), Carex blanda (Creek Sedge), and Carex flaccosperma (Blue Wood Sedge).
Large swaths of regional native grasses can provide both seed and cover. Most of our native grasses thrive in full sun with infertile soil. Some grasses which are native to Georgia include: Panicum virgatum (Switch Grass), Andropogon gerardii (Big Bluestem), Soghastrum nutans (Indian Grass), Muhlenbergia capillaris (Pink Muhly Grass) and Sporobolus heterolepis (Prarire Dropseed).
Many of our native wildflowers also produce lots of seeds. Some native perennials you might consider, depending on your site conditions, are: Agastache scrophulariifolia (Purple Giant Hyssop), Boltonia asteroides (False Aster), Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower), Eupatorium perfoliatum (Common Boneset), Eutrochium fistulosum (Hollow Joe-pye Weed), Helianthus strumosus (Woodland Sunflower), Liatris aspera (Rough Blazing Star), Rudbeckia fulgida (Black-eyed Susan), Rudbeckia hirta (Brown-eyed Susan), Solidago sempervirens (Seaside Goldenrod), Symphyotrichum laeve (Smooth Blue Aster), etc.
And, don’t forget to include a source of clean, fresh water – a birdbath or man-made water feature will do if there is no natural fresh water source. Moving water will attract even more bird activity than still water.
I hope you will see a lot more Painted Buntings and other wonderful birds with your new plantings!
Kim Eierman at EcoBeneficial!
Photo: Male Painted Bunting
Photo credit: Dan Pancamo_Flickr
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