Encouraging Painted Buntings

I have had a lot of questions regarding attracting Painted Buntings so here is some general information.  The key points are these and more information follows in a page I hand out when I do public speaking and the plans for a great feeder.

Painted Bunting (male)
Photo by Vicki Rogerson

1)  Live in "south" Florida and feed birds between October and April.  This may also apply to Painted Buntings that breed in northern FL and farther north.  Painted Buntings feed on grass and other seeds.  They may eat sunflower but they much prefer white millet.  White millet can be found in mixes that stores sell to attract finches or we have been lucky to find bags of white millet at a local feed store.  Small bags are more expensive so if you can store seed (dry and in critter proof containers) some of you might ask about larger bags.  Don't be confused with red millet - it is that large round, red seed used as filler in inexpensive seed mixes and a lot of birds won't even touch it.

2)  Buntings like to see around them when they eat but they are shy/cautious.  Having plantings (cover) close to a feeder but room (line of sight) around the feeder seems essential.  They like to have a pathway of plants from somewhere else (night roost??) to this feeder.

3) Caged feeders help Painted Buntings feel secure.

Text of handout:

Painted Buntings are one of the most beloved birds in Florida. You can attract them to your yard by trying these:
·         Feed white millet.
·         Provide low-lying, dense shrubs near your feeder for cover.
·         Place your feeder near cover but allow a view of the surroundings for safety.
·         Use a feeder that has a cage or wire to keep larger birds and mammals out.  *Plans for one type below

Painted Buntings on the east coast breed in northern Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. They migrate south as early as mid-August, but the majority arrive in central and south Florida in early October.  Most return north by March, but some remain until April.

It is well known that Painted Bunting numbers are dropping.  Before this species gets to an endangered level, studies are being conducted by the Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) and the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNC).  These groups are mostly studying the breeding populations.  In Florida, the Painted Bunting Banding Team is working with over-wintering Painted Buntings and color banding them.  UNC has a web page to track Painted Buntings in any season.  Data can be submitted there.
The Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on that page have a lot of information.

Let us band your birds.

If you have Painted Buntings and your yard is banding friendly, your birds can be banded with color bands that will let you identify individual birds.  Your birds can then be reported to UNC.  Resightings of your birds provide important data that will be used to help protect Painted Buntings.

·         Leave some room around your feeders to allow placement of nets.
·         Consider feeding on the ground or on a short table big enough to hold a trap (2 by 3 feet min).
·         Try to determine where the birds fly through your yard.
·         Email the banders at keepbirding2@yahoo.com


Banders are highly trained to protect the birds as much as possible.  There are safe methods of handling birds.  Birds are used to constant stress and they handle banding well. 
The Painted Bunting Banding Team also runs a banding station at Possum Long, a property owned by Audubon of Martin County.  You can follow the banding activities, past and present, at their blog.
In this blog you can also find news and photos of the Painted Bunting banding at the pages link in the upper right hand corner.

*Try to note the 4 colors and record them in this order:  upper left, lower left, upper right, lower right.
*One of the bands will be a metal band and should be noted as silver.  Another band has two colors and is called a split band.  Record it as “split” and note the two colors.  The black/white split is used in Florida in winter. 


*Note if it is green or male.  Green birds are either females or young males.  Males are unmistakably colored.  It takes almost a year and a half for a male to obtain its vibrant colors.  In the winter, no one can tell if a green is a young male or female.

*Report the bird and its band colors to:
·         www.paintedbuntings.org (UNC website data entry)

·         keepbirding2@yahoo.com  (bander’s email)

*  Feeder Plans

There a lot of people to thank in the making of these plans.  One of our hosts had large scale feeders like this (and fed at least 100 Painted and many Indigo Buntings) and were willing to share and help us make these plans  J & J built us a feeder that is at Possum Long in Stuart.  Pat & Bruce built several more and there is now one at DuPuis Environmental area outside of Stuart and 3 more at Possum Long.  I don't like to use full names on the internet but I hope you know who you are and how much this will mean to Painted Buntings.

The size of the feeder really isn't important though it helps to have plans already at hand.  I know folks who have made taller versions so they could see it in their yard.  I know folks who have enclosed an existing area near their porch.  The important part is the size of the fencing and to spread the fencing just enough to let birds in and keep squirrels etc out.  You can place seed on the bottom platform and/or hang a feeder inside.

Feeding Enclosure

  • Material List:1- Roll 1” X 2” galvanized wire mesh (TSC Ft Pierce)
  • 8- 2 X 2 X 8 ft pressure treated lumber

2 – 24” X 24” X 1/2” Exterior grade plywood
1 – 24” X 26” X 1/2” Exterior grade plywood
1 – Box 2 1/2” drywall screws2 – small packages galvanized 3/4” fence staples
1 - hook for hanging bird feeder
2 – small hinges
1 – hook and eye latchCutting1.       Cut 2 of the 2 X 2s to 72 " - front legs
2.       Cut 2 of the 2 X 2s to 70" – back legs
3.       Cut 8 lengths of 2 X 2 to 21 1/4” -shelf supports
4.       Cut 2 lengths 2 X 2 to 27 1/2” -door frame
5.       Cut 2 lengths 2 X 2 to 18 1/2 “ -door frame
6.       Cut 2 lengths of 2 X 2 to 32” - optional diagonal lower leg supports
Assembly1.    Building the framea)       Attach bottom of shelf supports to legs at 38” and 66” from bottom of legs using drywall screws. Make sure front legs (72”) and back legs (70”) are positioned correctly.
b)       Notch corners of 24” X 24” panels to fit onto shelf supports.
c)       Optionally, notch 32” lengths so that the inner length between notch points is 30 1/4”
d)       Join two notched supports together at right angles.
e)       Attach to frame approximately 16” from bottom.
2.    Installing the mesha)       Wrap wire mesh around 3 sides of the frame leaving the back side open. Attach with fence staples. Top of mesh should be level with the top of the longer (front) legs. Excess mesh will be trimmed later.
b)       Attach mesh securely to top shelf support.
c)       Attach mesh loosely to vertical wires on legs just below horizontal wires. This will allow for “creep” in vertical when mesh is crimped.
d)       Starting at the top of the mesh, using a pair of large ViseGrips, crimp wire spacing of narrow part is about 1/2 to 3/4”.
e)       Fully hammer in all staples.
Crimping the fencing to allow entrance in the 1" dimension

3. Install Shelves
a)       Insert lower shelf into frame. Leave loose so it can be removed for cleaning if necessary.
b)       Install feeder hook into upper shelf (optional).
c)       Attach shelf to upper shelf support with 4 screws.
4. Add Roof
a)       Trim mesh on sides and back to allow roof attachment.
b)       Assemble roof by attaching drip edge to 4 sides of 24 X 26 plywood sheet. Make drip edge by ripping 2 X 2 in half.
c)       Attach roof to top of frame.
d)       Optionally staple plastic sheeting to top for weather protection.
5. Add Door
a)       Assemble the door frame. Check fit in back opening of cage. Allow sufficient clearance to open and close door.
b)       Attach mesh to door and crimp as above.
c)       Attach door to cage with small hinges. Install latch.
Trim all exposed wire ends as flush as possible to avoid injury.

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