Want to help the painted bunting?

February 19, 2009

Painted bunting photo courtesy FWC.
Painted bunting photo courtesy FWC.

Painted Bunting Observer Team needs help from volunteers

The Painted Bunting Observer Team project at the University of North Carolina Wilmington needs your assistance with these brightly colored migratory birds.

The team is looking for volunteers to help with research in Florida to develop strategies to bring the bird populations up to healthy and sustainable levels.

“Unfortunately, painted bunting populations are declining,” said Dr. Jamie Rotenberg, ornithologist in the Department of Environmental Studies at UNCW.

The painted bunting’s decline may be due to a variety of factors, including increased coastal development and new agricultural practices, both of which clear shrub-scrub brush vital to breeding birds, according to Mike Delany, a biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Wildlife Research Lab in Gainesville.

In North Carolina and Florida, painted buntings typically breed in a narrow range along coasts and waterways.  In South Carolina and Georgia, the birds also favor the coast but breed well inland in low-country shrub and young pine stands.  As coastal habitats continue to be developed and as more inland shrub is cleared, these beautiful birds are losing their homes.

In Florida, the team wants to recruit and maintain an active group of volunteers who can make observations and collect data at backyard bird feeders and help band and monitor buntings.

“We hope to determine the abundance and distribution of painted buntings at backyard feeders and to detect population patterns across the coastal-inland and suburban-rural landscapes,” said Rotenberg.  “We want to know if there are differences in how males and females use feeders and how important these backyard feeders are as a food resource. Ultimately, we want to find out why the species is in decline and do something about it.”

Since painted buntings readily visit backyard bird feeders, volunteers can easily participate in gathering a variety of data that can aid the project in comparing populations breeding in suburban, rural and natural habitats, from the coast to more inland areas.

Last year, Rotenberg and his colleagues had more than 7,000 data hits to their Web site, www.paintedbuntings.org, from volunteers in the Carolinas, and the team captured and banded more than 500 painted buntings.  The banded birds allow the team to learn about migration, life span, survival rate, reproductive success and population growth, as well as the behavior of individual birds.

“When we began, most of our volunteers wanted to know if the same birds were returning to their feeders every year,” said Rotenberg.  “With the bands, our volunteers can actually identify individual birds and know if the same ones are visiting.”

“We put four colored bands on each painted bunting. That color combination is unique to that individual bird,” said Laurel Barnhill, bird conservation coordinator for the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. “This allows observers to identify and distinguish a particular painted bunting from all the rest.”

Each painted bunting receives three predetermined colors and one silver band with inscribed numbers. This silver band is a federal band from the U.S. Bird Banding Laboratory.  The bands are easily viewed with binoculars.

To become a Painted Bunting Observer Team volunteer or to learn more about the project, please sign up at www.paintedbuntings.org, or e-mail the project coordinator at pbot.mns@ncmail.net.

Contact: Dr. Jamie Rotenberg, 910-962-7549
or Mike Delany, 352-955-2081