Painted Buntings with a Sweet Tooth

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Yesterday morning I spent some time birding in my Central Florida backyard, and I found the funniest thing: my Painted Buntings have a sweet tooth!  I was observing them at my millet feeder, noting that there seemed to be more “greenies” (females and/or immature males) than there were a few weeks ago.  Then I noticed the male Painted Bunting who hopped over to one of my Coral Porterweed plants, selected a clump of flowers, and bit at the base of the flower to get at the nectar within.  Did he think he was a hummingbird? :)

I’ve never heard of Painted Buntings being nectar drinkers before, although I have observed Palm Warblers nectaring from the same plant.  A Google search turned up a thread on the Painted Bunting Observer Team website indicating that Painted Buntings are known to eat salvia seeds, but they have also been seen drinking nectar.  I wonder if my birds were anticipating the approaching cold front and trying to store up some extra energy?

Speaking of eating salvia seeds, my backyard buntings were certainly pigging out on mine!  In my back bed I have several Compton’s Salvia plants, as well as a bunch of annual Scarlet Sage plants.  The annual variety re-seeds freely, giving me plenty of “volunteer” plants throughout my garden, so I’m sure there were plenty of seeds available for the hungry birds.

These pictures were taken through my kitchen window.  A house is a great bird blind!  As I processed my pictures, I noticed that the birds seemed to blend right into the flowerbed, where the red and purple salvia blooms seemed to match the colors of the males.  I wonder if the birds are aware of this kind of natural camouflage?

It’s the time of year when you can start to tell which greenies are females and which are juvenile males.  The females stay green, and the juvenile males start to get a little rosy in the chest and/or have blue feathers around their faces.  I think the greenie below is starting to show hints of blue.

I’ve had Painted Buntings in my backyard for several years now.  In the first couple of years that I had buntings, I saw mostly greenies, with only the occasional male.  This year I’ve had at least three or four wintering males, but I haven’t seen many greenies until this weekend.  I like to think that this year’s males are returning birds who were juveniles in my yard.

It’s funny to watch the males and females at the feeders – as soon as the male shows up, the females leave!  I guess they have their pecking order well established.  Poor little greenies.

If you are trying to attract Painted Buntings to your own backyard, try putting out a millet feeder.  Painted Buntings love millet!  I buy mine at Wild Birds Unlimited.  Try planting native grasses in your backyard as well.  A good source for Salvias in Orlando is Biosphere Nursery.  Don’t underestimate the weeds, either.  The buntings love the clover weeds that I begrudgingly leave in my flowerbeds during the winter!

3 thoughts on “Painted Buntings with a Sweet Tooth

  1. Seriously jealous.
    I have only ever had ONE painted bunting in my backyard.
    But … I don’t ever supply them with food due to my overly friendly …rats.

  2. Spotted male and female painted buntings at my feeder this morning here in Auburndale, Fl ( Polk County). Beautiful have never seen them here before.

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