Each year, backyard birdwatchers in the southeastern United States are thrilled by the arrival of a stunning, dazzling species of songbird that shows up during breeding season.
The painted bunting, a bird native to the southern regions of North and Central America, has been capturing the attention of bird enthusiasts for years due to the distinct, brilliant plumage that mature males display. While young males and all females are more of an overall green color—which is pretty enough on its own—male painted buntings over the age of 2 boast feather patterns made up of bright jewel tones that make them both hard to miss and easy to be delighted by.
With heads that often feature bright-blue feathers and wings and backs made up of oranges, yellows, and greens, the male painted bunting looks exactly like its name suggests; its plumage is reminiscent of a beautifully saturated watercolor painting.
Painted buntings have been catching eyes for centuries, with a history of illegal trade sending them back to Europe dating all the way back to the 1800s. And although modern-day conservation efforts have curbed the practice in North America, there are still regions in Central and South America—where the bird migrates to in the winter—that haven’t quite been able to curb the trade as much as conservationists would hope.
It’s not just conservationists and bird-watching enthusiasts who are in pursuit of knowledge about this particular bird, though.
The breeding patterns of the painted bunting have been well documented in the southeastern United States over the years, yet their migration patterns still mystify scientists even today. There’s knowledge that the birds head to south Florida in the winter, though less is known about where they head after that; from Mexico to the Bahamas and Cuba, the data on where the birds’ destination is is still muddled, which makes it hard to truly understand why their numbers are currently declining.
These gorgeous fowl haven’t hit endangered status, and scientists hope they never will. So, if you see one of these flying friends out and about and notice a tiny tracker on them, don’t be alarmed; these birds are being equipped with geolocators to help scientists figure out a little bit more about where they head when the temperatures drop. This way, if there’s a region that sees poor survival numbers, we’ll know—and hopefully, scientists will be able to find a way to keep those numbers from continuing to dip in the areas where there’s the most concern.
For now, just appreciate these stunning feathered friends if you’re lucky enough to spot them. After all, even scientists think they’re absolutely extraordinary.
“They are just so fabulous,” said biologist Scott Sillett while talking about the migrating population. “It’s probably the most spectacularly beautiful migratory songbird that breeds in North America.”