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Notes from a birdwatcher: Does that bird belong in Richmond Hill?

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POSTED: May 25, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Simply amazing! That was my reaction to seeing the painted bunting for the first time just two weeks ago. Last summer I was busy unpacking after a long cross-country trip from the West coast, so I missed seeing this "Easter egg" of the birding world. By the time I looked up from underneath the mountain of boxes I was under, they were gone.

The painted bunting is one of the most brightly colored song birds we have in the United States. Fortunately for us, Bryan County is one of only a handful of counties here in Georgia that hosts them during the summer. So the answer to the title question is yes. Often mistaken for a caged bird gone loose, the painted bunting can be seen here in the coastal empire from April to mid-October. The idea that they are a rare bird from Central America out of their range is not too far off. Their primary wintering grounds are Mexico and the countries of Central America. Their rainbow colored plumage has led to their capture and their introduction into the world of the cage-bird trade. This is illegal in the US; however buntings still find themselves held captive in Mexico and Cuba. This has led to their status listing as being a species of special concern.

Another unnatural occurrence leading to their gradual decline, also common among many other threatened and endangered birds, is habitat loss. The painted bunting seeks out swampy coastal areas of thicket and brush to forage for insects and seed. They also utilize these areas to breed. These diverse eco-systems have come under attack by land developers for their prime real-estate acreage thus forcing the buntings elsewhere.

As if all this color isn’t enough, the painted bunting is often found traveling with its cohort the indigo bunting. The indigo, though lacking the range of colors of the painted, sports a bright neon blue look. These two at your backyard feeders can create quite a stir. Buntings love white millet, so if you want to keep these guys around, keep a feeder full of it.

The image you see here was taken in my backyard in Richmond Hill, so they are definitely here. They usually visit early in the morning or late into the evening as the sun is setting. They are very skittish, but will tolerate other birds. Unlike the male, the female has an all greenish plumage. This contrast in appearance is very common with many bird species. There are many reasons for this difference; however one reason is that the female wishes to call little to no attention to herself while on her nest with either eggs or a young brood.

The painted bunting is certainly a sight to be seen. It looks like it has stepped right out of the jungles of the Amazon. With such a small range in our state combined with declining numbers, this bird should definitely be on your list this summer.

 

 

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