Painted Bunting Passerina ciris

  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Cardinalidae
  • Polytypic: 2 subspecies
  • Authors: Thomas S. Schulenberg


Conservation Status

Painted Bunting is regarded as a "species of concern" in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Migratory Bird Program Strategic Plan 2004-2014; as a Watch List Species by Partners in Flight (Rich et al. 2004); and as Near-Threatened by BirdLife International. The Painted Bunting also is listed as a Species of Concern in the newly proposed Norma Oficial Mexicana 059 para las Especies Amenazadas y en Peligro.

Across the United States breeding range of Painted Bunting, Breeding Bird Survey results show a long-term (1966-2003) decline at an average rate of -1.6 %/year (Sauer et al. 2007) (see also Populations and Demography). The reasons for this decline have not been identified, and could include factors affecting Painted Buntings both on the breeding grounds, or in areas where buntings occur in winter or on migration. Among the latter factors is the potential effect of commercial trapping, which is illegal in the United States but which is common in Mexico and in Cuba (see Effects of Human Activity on Populations).

The Breeding Bird Surveys do not show statistically significant population trends for the eastern population of Painted Bunting, but this survey may not accurately reflect population trends of Painted Bunting in this region (see Populations and Demography). The eastern population remains of great concern because of its geographically restricted breeding area, which is, at most, only 4% of the size of the breeding area occupied by the western population (Sykes and Holzman 2005). Furthermore, eastern Painted Buntings often are most abundant in areas close to the coast, where natural habitats often are lost to development as human population increases in the region. An encouraging note is that approximately 13.5% of the total breeding range of the eastern Painted Bunting is made up of public lands. These public lands could provide a critically important refuge for buntings (Sykes and Holzman 2005).

Effects of human activity on populations

Painted Buntings are negatively affected by two major human activities, habitat degradation and trapping for the cage bird trade.

Loss of habitat is a potential problem for all Painted Bunting populations, but presents the greatest threat to the eastern population. The eastern populations often are most abundant in the immediate vicinity of the coast, where natural habitats are threatened by development as human population increases in the region (Sykes and Holzman 2005). Painted Buntings can adapt to yards and gardens, however, if these are landscaped to maintain important features of natural habitats.

The great beauty of the adult male Painted Bunting has attracted commercial attention for a very long time. Male Painted Buntings for sale in a street market in Latin America; © Eduardo Iñigo-EliasAudubon described a trade in caged buntings, with thousands of caged birds being shipped to Europe for sale in the early 19th century. Such trade has been banned in the United States since the early 20th century, but continues to be legal in other countries. Preliminary estimates are that at least 100,000 Painted Buntings were trapped in Mexico between 1984 and 2000 (a mean annual capture rate of 5880 buntings/year). International trade in wild-caught cage birds was banned in Mexico from 1982 to 1999, but the international trade in Painted Buntings resumed quickly after this ban was lifted; for example, about 6000 birds per year were exported from Mexico to Europe in 2000 and 2001 (Iñigo-Elias et al. 2002). Similarly, there is commercial trade in Painted Buntings in Cuba, where caged birds are sold on domestic markets (Sykes et al. 2007).

Recommended Citation

Schulenberg, T. S. (2009). Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.