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.