The Bunting and the Bidens

One of the more elusive birds who visit my place is the migratory Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris). These birds have a very limited U.S. range. The male is most evident with its colors that look like it was drawn using the primary colors from a box of 8 Crayola crayons. The females are a yellow-green and I’ve yet to see one.

Spotted through the tree branches

My first encounter with this beauty came back in 2013 and I was stunned by what I saw.  I’m still mesmerized each and every time I get a glimpse of these wary creatures.

My first encounter back in 2013 produced a blurred photo

A friend of mine who is very much into birds and I keep in routine contact via email as we report to one another what is happening in our yards. Michael gave me a hint a few years back that, in Central Florida, the time to look for these beauties is in any month that contains an “r”. So, I start looking in September and work my way through April with the camera at the ready.  Over the years I’ve spotted them in November, December and January and since February starts Friday, I think that it is a safe bet to add February to my list.

Usually they are hidden

Lucky people in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas Arkansas, Oklahoma and South Carolina as well as the North Florida and Georgia Atlantic coasts can look for nests during summer breeding season.

So, why am I so lucky to see them on a fairly regular basis during their migration?  Well, the Florida native Bidens alba flowers, of course.  This often-maligned flower, also known as Spanish Needles, has prolific seeds which stick to everything that passes by.  Me?  I never could figure out why everyone finds it so troublesome. To me it is kind of Nature’s badge of honor showing you care more about life-giving resources than misguided aesthetic perception!  The result is I have documented painted buntings visiting each year since 2013.

This guy can’t get enough of the Bidens alba seeds

As a matter of fact, this past month I have observed a male bunting nearly every day hiding in the patches of Bidens alba that are half dried out and half still blooming.  Lesson learned? Don’t be foolish by neatening up the place or you may miss out on the opportunity to have visiting buntings.  They apparently relish the “mess” and tangles of my favorite Florida native plant.

I took a photo through the window since once I open the door they usually fly off

The birds are wary of people and most times when I open the door to sneak out for a photo they quickly fly away. The same thing happened again yesterday.

Visiting Bidens alba in December 2014, still quite blurry

Sadly, a good friend of mine who lived in Minnesota left the earth this past weekend due to complications following an operation for aortic aneurysms.  She and I chatted nearly every morning for the past 20+ years, often sharing tales of what was happening at her bird feeder or what the birds were doing in my yard.

I often reminisce in my mind about friends who have departed that I would have dialed to share my daily encounters as I wander around my property. I held a “thought” conversation with my friend after my photo op took flight yesterday, and I specifically asked her to get one of the Buntings to hold still enough for a decent photograph.

Finally! a clear photo

So, Lynn, thank you for your helping hand in holding this beauty steady for me today.  While morning coffee will never be the same since I will miss your daily banter, I know that you are still there for me. Our chats will just have to take this new form. You will be missed more than anyone can imagine and thanks to your help, the painted buntings will now hold an extra special meaning to me.

 Select resources:

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology




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