Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Painted Buntings at the Bird Feeder

This summer we've been getting some new customers I haven't seen at our bird feeders before: a pair of Painted Buntings! The male Painted Bunting is one of the most striking of all Texas's birds. I still don't think they look real. It looks like a child's drawing of a bird where the child insisted on using every color of crayon in the box.
I also discovered something very interesting about Painted Buntings, which may explain why I haven't gotten them at the bird feeders before. Most of the cheaper bird seed mixes have a lot of millet and milo in them, with only a few sunflower seeds mixed in. Years ago I noticed most birds just pick the sunflower seeds out and scatter the rest on the ground, so I started buying only pure black oil sunflower seeds. It's more expensive, but none is wasted. Everybody seemed to like it: chickadees, titmice, cardinals, doves, house finches, everybody.

Well, a while ago a bag of cheaper seed mix (I believe it was called something like Texas Wild Bird Mix) was on sale at HEB, so I went ahead and bought a bag, even though I was pretty sure I was just wasting money. We put it in one bird feeder, while the other one still has pure sunflower seeds.

As you can see from the pictures, this seems to be the preferred food for the buntings! The house finches, chickadees, and titmice all stick to the sunflower seeds, but the buntings go to the other feeder with the seed mix. Also, if I look closely enough, it looks like they are actually picking the small seeds out and discarding the sunflower seeds in the mix.

So I'm glad I finally found out what seeds painted buntings like, because look at this fellow! It took a long time for me to get a picture of him because for such brightly colored birds, painted buntings are surprisingly shy. They're always the first to get scared away when I come anywhere near the window, while the chickadees, finches, and wrens don't care. I hardly ever see them out in the wild, but I have been hearing their songs a lot lately. They stay hidden up in the trees and hardly ever come out in the open where you can see them.

I also got one picture of who I assume to be his wife. She's even more camera-shy than the male. Female painted buntings are olive green, which means they really blend in well with tree leaves so you hardly ever see them. I think we only have one pair visiting the feeder, because I've never seen more than one male and one female at a time. I wonder if they have a nest around here.

After doing some research, I think it's probably the millet they like the best. That's the smallest seed in the mix. Milo is a larger, reddish-colored seed, and according to the Cornell Ornithology website, hardly any birds like that stuff. Maybe once I run out of this seed mix, I'll buy some millet by itself just for the buntings.