I’m getting a bit off topic today to talk about some Florida birds. After living in Florida (off and on) since 1979, I am only just discovering that the beautiful Painted Bunting migrates and breeds here in Florida. They are stunning birds, and accidentally, I found them in my own backyard.
Here is my story of how I came to realize the Painted Bunting was right in my own backyard.
I’m no good at nature photography. The video comes from YouTube, and the bird photos on this page are courtesy of Pixabay contributors. Many thanks to the photographers who share their images.
Feeding Backyard Birds: The Beginning
When I lived in New Hampshire I began feeding the birds in winter. It’s easy to feel motivated to help out the wildlife when the winter storms come and the temperatures are below freezing. I grew up in a family that put up feeders in winter and yearned to see the coveted red cardinal.
My time in New Hampshire taught me a lot about feeding northern birds. The Juncos come early in the season and eat from the ground. The nuthatches, titmouse, and chickadees love sunflower seed, as do blue jays and many other birds. Squirrels and bears can sniff out sunflower seeds are are drawn to any feeder containing them. I’ve had many feeders carried off and chewed by the black bears if the feeders were left out too long into Spring.
In New Hampshire I threw seed on the crusty snow for the ground eaters and had seed and suet feeders hanging for the rest. I even made my own suet, which the woodpeckers adored. (I could tell!) This old Wizzley article of mine will tell you how to make suet, if you are interested, but don’t feed suet in Florida – it’s too warm.
Florida and Feeding Birds
Florida is another world when it comes to just about everything. Winter is the only time of year bird-feeding can be done. The heat and humidity and extreme rain in the hotter months will make the seed go bad quickly.
I never fed the birds while I lived here because I figured they have a year round chance to find all the food they need. Their habitats are never buried in many feet of snow and it seldom even gets below freezing here.
A few months ago, in Fall when the weather cooled off, I began feeding the birds in my Florida backyard. It was just something to do, and I never expected to find anything surprising. It was a little experiment to see what types of birds would show up.
I began by purchasing sunflower seeds. This is the general seed that many birds will eat, and I knew the cardinal was abundant in my area. I had seen families of cardinals hopping through my little vegetable garden in search of bugs. They would tear little leaves off my tomato plants. And yes, they loved the sunflower seed as well.
Bird feeders can be expensive, but I decided that a simple tray feeder would be enough. Sure enough, I had Cardinals, Tufted titmouse, Blue Jays, and a little Wren coming regularly.
When I bought a bag of mixed seed, that was when I began seeing doves come to eat. They were after the millet seeds (those little round off-white seeds). So I bought more millet just for them. Every now and then I would see a little green bird at the feeder and bird bath. It looked like a goldfinch, but was totally the wrong color. It was also eating the millet.
I never saw more than one green bird, but decided I would try to identify it. Because of it’s coloring, it was not difficult to find information. It was the female Painted Bunting. I went on to discover that this type of bunting can be seen in Florida during it’s migration and breeding season. This Map at All About Birds shows the range.
Ever since I began feeding the Painted buntings, I also see a Yellow-rumped warbler occasionally. He usually comes to the bird bath and sometimes the tray feeder. So now I have become a bird-watcher once again.
A New Feeder to Protect the Birds From Cats
This is my new feeder which is a simple tube with perches enclosed by a cage. Many people buy this type of feeder to keep squirrels away from the seed, but I bought it for another reason. I have two cats, but they never catch any wildlife.
The Painted Buntings scare away easily so I got into the habit of watching them through binoculars – this was before the new feeder below. As I was watching a green (female, probably) bird on the tray feeder, out of nowhere a cat (not mine) ran from the woods, leaped and snatched the bunting off the feeder! I was horrified…. The cat was gone as quickly as he came, with the bird in his mouth.
As I looked around for a better feeder I noticed that some people who fed buntings had this type of caged feeder. It really has turned out to be a fabulous feeder for the buntings (affiliate link to Amazon) and would work for other types of seed for other birds. Very often, at various times of day, it is full with birds waiting to get a spot to feed.
My photo below, taken from in the house, is not a good one, but the feeder is full of buntings. It took a few days for them to find and return to this feeder, but now they are regulars. They also eat off the ground and from the tray feeder, but I worry when they do. A vicious cat could be hiding in the woods. This type of feeder is good protection from hawks as well.
When to See Painted Buntings on East Coast of Florida?
This is my first year feeding the buntings so I don’t know when the season ends (or actually began for that matter). I suspect once the heat and storms return I will take the feeders in, unless the birds depart before that.
NOTE: I was away until the beginning of May and when I returned home I saw NO more buntings at the feeder. But, my son had been feeding them and had seen them recently. So… birds are gone by beginning of May it seems. If a reader knows more about this, please leave a comment!
By the way, the buntings, and most other birds appreciate a bird bath. I get catbirds, thrashers, robins and all the regulars drinking from it. I even have a squirrel who stretches up and sips from it, and an opossum that drinks from the one on the ground. The raccoons use the water overnight and leave it dirty each morning.
Where I live the greenery of nature is becoming scarce and the wildlife needs our help. Soon all the forests and green spaces of Florida will be bulldozed for businesses, apartments and houses… I am not kidding. When I first moved into this house, about 5 years ago, I would regularly see little armadillos in the yard. Now, I never see them.
17 thoughts on “Painted Buntings, Florida Nature To Get Excited About”
Hello. Really enjoyed your article. I’ve lived in central Florida since 1963. I just want to encourage you and say please don’t be leary about feed in the summer! That’s proven to be our busiest time! We go with wooden feeders with wooden bottoms so they can be scraped every other month although the seed is always eaten clean away. Once in awhile I use a small stick at the openings of the tube feeder but it’s usually no big deal to do that. Every year we’ve encountered a new species! So fun! God bless!
Hey Robin, thanks so much for the encouragement. I do love watching the birds. Right now there are baby cardinals making all kinds of noise and still dependent on mom and dad. I have millet on the ground which they are going after. I’d love to know which kind of seed you prefer for summer? I have too many squirrels who pig out on the sunflower, and the millet (unless it’s in that cage feeder for the buntings) draws lots of blackbirds that chase everything else away. Thanks for reading and leaving the comment 😉
For the first time I have painted buntings at my feeder. It took me a while to find it in the bird book yesterday. I had never seen one before. Today I saw two pair at the feeder. I live in Orlando.
That is awesome! Aren’t they something? I have been wondering how far inland they travel. They sure do love the millet seeds. It’s how I accidentally brought them to the yard. Enjoy those beauties! They will leave us in May, I believe.
I live in SC about 30 miles below Columbia. Way inland. I have a pair of painted burnings. They seem to come in late April and stay all summer. They like one feederoutside my kitchen window. Yea! I mix a variety of seed and include meal worms. A lot of birds like them especially when nesting. I haven’t seen my girl yet but her greens are outstanding. Painted burnings aren’t supposed to be here but they are. Climate change I guess.
Wow Katrina, thanks for the info about your pair of buntings. I did read that they switch from seeds to bugs, and probably worms, when nesting. I’m not sure mine are totally gone until next winter, but haven’t seen them lately. If you get them this time of year maybe they leave Florida and head further north. I know I’d like to… LOL
1/30/23 Glad you’re enjoying your buntings! We live east of Orlando and we have a very wooded yard. We had at least five male painted buntings in the yard today and probably that many females. We have four feeders: white millet, safflower, black sunflower seeds and peanuts (unsalted-roasted). Our permanent woodpecker family love peanuts as do blue jays. All the feeders are Brome squirrel busters. We invested in a squirrel stopper pole so we never have to worry about the cats and squirrels as there are lots of both around us. We feed all summer but don’t fill the feeders as full as in the winter so the seeds don’t mold and go bad. I agree it’s good to keep several water sources fresh and available.
Hi Mary, Are you close to the coast then? It’s my understanding that the buntings are near the east coast. It’s tough to feed birds in summer here because of the mold, and I only use tray feeders then. I used to not feed at all in hot weather, and with the price of seed, I may stop this year. My millet was for buntings and doves, but now blackbirds have swooped in and taken over. It doesn’t keep the buntings away though, and the blackbirds can’t get to the seed in the cage feeder.
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That cage feeder looks like a great idea! I really like the female cardinal. She’s a lot less showy than the glorious male.
Yes, the female cardinal is beautiful in her own way. I hope you are doing okay over there Emma. I’m hearing bad things about a new strain in your area.
We have been in lockdown in Wales since Demember and the numbers are coming down in our area. The new variant is a worry, although I believe that face masks, hand washing and social distancing are still effective at keeping it at bay. There was a big fuss in the news about a government department in outr town (DVLA – they do all the car licences for the UK) where everyone was forced to coming into work although many people wanted to work from home, had to answer the phones right next to other people and unsurprisingly there had been over 500 cases there! People come from all over the area to work there too!
You know, this is the thing – the rules are inconsistent. Many “rule-makers” over here seem more like “do as I say and not as I do”. I hope the vaccine opportunities will calm things down. Certain businesses need to be open to survive. As you probably know, I design products online and so many items are out-of-stock it’s a wonder I make any money at all. Some people say that this is the new norm, and I certainly hope it is not.
We have the added complication of Brexit in the UK – yes, suppliers are out of stock or slow to deliver and I dont know who or what to blame! Sales in the art-world are a law unto themselves at the best of times!
I think I need a caged feeder myself too. The chipmunks keep chewing from the feeders LOL Last summer I had a bliss finding what huge success were the Cosmos flowers for American goldfinch – not sure if they get to your backyard too. If you want to take a peak: https://1000placesandmemories.wordpress.com/2020/12/10/ca-ontario-the-10-most-common-birds-from-our-backyard/
The caged feeder is pretty sweet, and in the north it may help when hawks come around to snatch birds. Yes, many reviewers say it keeps the pesky squirrels away – not sure about chipmunks. There are no chipmunks where I live and I do not see chickadees or goldfinches, but I used to plant all those flowers in your video (I totally enjoyed it) to attract birds. My goldfinches also loved the Coneflower seeds. In Florida those flowers don’t grow, sadly.
I also have some Coneflowers, but have not seen any bird picking on them. I am planning to plant more flowers this summer🙂 Have a lovely day! xx