Painted Bunting

Passerina ciris


Sounds and Vocal Behavior

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Adult male Painted Bunting, Laredo, Webb Co., TX, 7 May.

Adult male Painted Bunting is distinctive and unlikely to be confused with any other species within its range. Image via Birdshare by Carlos Escamilla.

Figure 2. Song of the Painted Bunting

Song of the Painted Bunting (Austin, Travis Co., TX, 20 Jun 1970). (Prepared by staff of Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics [BLB No. 10716], Ohio State University, using a Kay Elemetrics DSP 5500 Sona-Graph with an effective frequency resolution of 150 Hz and a 200-pt FFT transform size).



Little information. Food call of fledglings is a persistent single or double chirp distinct from Alarm Notes of adult (Parmelee 1959). For several individual adult males recorded in successive years, song repertoires changed noticeably; song-learning appears to continue even past age 1 yr, although differences between years may be result of shift in frequency with which given songs were delivered between years (SML). Song-sharing among neighboring individuals also provides indirect indication of vocal learning. Among recorded songs of 93 individuals at 7 sites in Georgia and Florida, only 129 separate “figures” identified, of which only 7 were unique to single individuals (Forsythe 1974). Although song-learning in the Painted Bunting is poorly known, comparison with Indigo Bunting (see Payne 1992) might provide important insights.

Vocal Array

Only males reported to sing (Thompson 1976a).

Song.Figure 2. Song is a sequence of syllables; syllables (phrases, figures, or notes) are elements of song with continuous sound emission and narrow frequency range at any given instant, but they are modulated in frequency (Thompson 1976a). Painted Bunting song is series of separate, simple syllables alternating between high and low frequency (Forsythe 1974). Song is “sweet and musical, high-pitched, but rather weak,” similar to that of Indigo Bunting; consists of 1-, 2-, and 3-note phrases, with abrupt changes in pitch. Song has been represented as tida dayda tida day teetayta tita; witee wi witee wi witato; and to taytletay weeto weeto taytletay wee; first notes higher pitched, last notes often lowest; songs average about 10 syllables (range 7–13, n = 17), length about 2 s (range 1–4 [4-s song included a pause; average otherwise 1.85 s]); average pitch range about 3 tones (range 2–4.5; A. A. Saunders in Sprunt 1968b). Song “high-pitched, sweet, but thin tinkly. . . more musical in quality than . . . [that of] Indigo Bunting, but it is not loud, and does not carry far . . . abrupt two-note phrases are common, . . . few trills, and no liquid consonant sounds”; witee wiwitee wita witato and tida dayda tidaday teetayta totah (Saunders 1951a: 300) or wee sittee, wippity, pickity, snickity (Baumgartner and Baumgartner 1992).

Song measurements from Painted Bunting populations in Texas, s. Missouri, and areas in South Carolina and Florida are given in Table 1. Songs from these 3 areas show much similarity in structure. For songs of birds recorded at Welder Wildlife Refuge, San Patricio Co., Texas (Thompson 1976a), 98.9% of syllables used only 1 time/song, 1.09% used 2 times, 0.02% used 3 times (n = 457 songs of 31 birds). Of 481 songs of 31 birds, mean 4.45 song types/individual; among the 22 birds recorded at Welder Wildlife Refuge, some shared song elements, but not complete songs.

Call Notes. Pik-pik-pik (T. E. Winford in Sprunt 1968b); a “wet plik ” (Howell and Webb 1995). During experimental presentation of mounted male and/or recorded song, a chip-type Alarm Note and Tseep Call, associated with Body-Fluff Display (see Behavior: agonistic behavior, below), given in agonistic situations (Forsythe 1974).

Feeding Call. Soft call notes by captive female, apparently to induce young to accept food, given as repeated chew-chew-chew-cheee or chew-cheee-chew-cheee-chew-cheee; not heard distinctly beyond 2 m (Parmelee 1959).

Geographic Variation

Song structure similar at geographically separated sites: studies in Texas (Thompson 1976a) and on Atlantic coast (Georgia and Florida; Forsythe 1974) showed very similar descriptive measurements. No study of detailed structures of syllables (as has been done with Indigo Bunting; see Payne 1992).


Little information on annual pattern. Males not known to sing when in Costa Rica (late Oct–late Mar; Stiles and Skutch 1989). Males sing on first arrival; 46 of 49 males were singing first day when observed in Georgia study (Lanyon and Thompson 1986). Subjectively, singing rate (songs/unit time; see below) declines by more than half between male arrival and female arrival and declines by half again after pairing (SML). In Oklahoma, song frequency drops off after mid-Jul, but males continue to sing in Aug (Parmelee 1959).

Daily Pattern

No information.

Places Of Vocalizing

Males sing predominantly (>50% of observations) from concealed perches for first week after arriving in Georgia study area, but after females appear, songs given predominantly (>50% of observations) from exposed perches (SML). Conspicuous perch is usual (Sprunt 1968b); males have several song perches on territory but do not sing from nest plant (Parmelee 1959). Sings from elevated and exposed sites 1–10 m above ground (Sprunt 1968b); 1 heard from ground (A. A. Saunders in Sprunt 1968b). Nonterritorial males sing from more concealed locations (SML).

Repertoire And Delivery Of Songs

Males sing a few different song patterns. Song patterns are particular sequence of characteristic song syllables, which show some variation because of altered middle figures or, more rarely, altered middle and ending (Forsythe 1974). On basis of recordings of 481 songs from 31 individuals (mostly from Texas), males had mean of 4.45 song patterns (Thompson 1976a), and a mean of 3.1 song patterns (maximum 5) for 93 males (Forsythe 1974). These studies were not exhaustive in sampling and therefore give minimum estimates.

Song delivery as frequent as 9–10 songs/min between neighboring males during territory establishment (Finke 1979). Males that successfully reared young (n = 2) kept same number of distinctive songs in subsequent year; unsuccessful males (n = 3) changed number of songs in recorded repertoire in subsequent year (SML).

Social Context And Presumed Functions

Song serves in territory defense and/or self-advertisement. Males engage in countersinging (i.e., one male sings and neighbor appears to answer; continues for 30 s or more). Countersinging increases directly with spring arrival dates of new males in breeding population (SML).

Very responsive to playback, but response diminishes as breeding season progresses (SML). In early-season experiments with speaker and mount, female is attracted and responsive (i.e., actively solicits), but male drives female away from mount (apparently to prevent cuckolding).

Immature (second-year) males sing, and some even breed, but most are nonterritorial (i.e., no permanent territory); they will appear, briefly, singing in midst of established territory of another bird (SML).

Species Recognition

In response to recordings of other Passerina buntings, Painted Buntings show no response or only mild acknowledgment: Males showed no response for 18 of 20 presentations of Indigo Bunting songs; no response for 18 of 20 presentations of Lazuli Bunting songs; no response for 9 of 12 presentations of Varied Bunting songs; and no response for 8 of 12 presentations of Orange-breasted Bunting songs; in contrast, all males responded to conspecific songs, with most (15 of 20 in Jun and 8 of 22 in Jul) approaching and displaying to the speaker (Thompson 1969c). Sometimes responds to songs of Indigo Bunting, but less intensely than responds to conspecific songs; Indigo Buntings did not respond to Painted Bunting songs (Forsythe 1974).

Nonvocal Sounds

None known.

Recommended Citation

Lowther, P. E., S. M. Lanyon, and C. W. Thompson (2015). Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.