Friday, July 15, 2011

Painted Bunting in Marathon

On July 12, Bob Ellis noticed an unmistakeable male Painted Bunting visiting his backyard feeding station on a quiet residential street in Marathon. Bob, who took up birding in his retirement, immediately recognized the species - one he'd seen before in Florida - and promptly alerted Brian Ratcliff in Thunder Bay. Brian then relayed the information to the birding community in northwest Ontario.

[click on image to enlarge]

I called Bob to see if he'd seen the bird again and he enthusiastically described its habits following a second sighting only this morning. Apparently the Painted Bunting is keeping company with a flock of Pine Siskins but, unlike the siskins which are feeding out in the open, the Painted Bunting prefers to feed very discretely in the shadows beneath a small artificial spruce tree around which Bob scatters mixed seed.

He invited me over to watch for the bird from his back deck and only a half hour or so after I arrived the Painted Bunting materialized exactly as Bob described. It foraged on the ground, always in the shadows, for about five minutes allowing me to take a few documentation photos.

Thanks Bob for sharing the sighting!

[Update: July 16th. Greg Stroud reported seeing the bird late this morning in the usual place]
[Update: July 17th. Nick Escott and Brian Moore saw the bird at noon]
[Update: July 18th. Bob Ellis reported the bird is still present]

[click on images to enlarge]

There are about 25 records of Painted Bunting for the province and only a few from the Thunder Bay District. Any Painted Bunting sighting is of interest to the Ontario Bird Records Committee.

Here are the records I'm aware of for northern Ontario, in chronological order:
  • May 12-14, 1995. Keewatin, Kenora District, adult male
  • May 5, 1998. Thunder Cape, Thunder Bay District, definitive alternate male;
  • May 6-11, 1999. Kenora, Kenora District, definitive alternate male;
  • June 1, 2003. Vickers Heights, Thunder Bay District, definitive alternate male;
  • May 22-(ca)26, 2003. Moose Factory, Cochrane District, definitive alternate male;
  • April 29-May 3, 2004. Long Point Lake, Timiskaming, definitive alternate male;
  • May 26, 2006. Lake Nepahwin, Sudbury District, definitive alternate male;
  • May ?, 2010. Rossport, Thunder Bay District, female;
  • August 5, 2010. Sault Ste. Marie, Algoma District, female.
Perhaps the northernmost record for the species is the following:
The breeding range of the species is comprised of disjunct east and west populations and extends no farther north than the state of Kansas.

Breeding range (from

Most Ontario sightings occur in May and early June and one could reasonably suppose that these birds represent northbound migrants that have overflown their southern breeding range. Mlodinow and Hamilton (2005) reviewed extralimital records for North American and noted the same pattern at a regional scale:
The pattern of Painted Bunting vagrancy across the mid-continent is strikingly uniform. Most reports (136 of 174, 78%) from this region come from the spring period. East of the Mississippi River, there is also a small fall/winter peak, with most birds first found between early October and mid-December.
Thus, the mid-July date of the Marathon occurrence is unusual among northern Ontario sightings and at a larger, mid-continental scale [although perhaps no more unusual than the August 5th, 2010 record of a female in Sault Ste Marie].  Could the Marathon bird represent a spring vagrant that never got back on track? Perhaps, but Mlodinow and Hamilton (2005) also note that "fall migration is evident in the western population from mid or late July through October" and that adult males are the first to leave the breeding areas. Alternatively then, the Marathon bird may represent a disoriented post-breeding migrant.


Mlodinow, S. G., and R. A. Hamilton. 2005. Vagrancy of Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) in the United States, Canada, and Bermuda. North American Birds 59: 172-183 (pdf).

1 comment:

  1. Exciting bird, Michael. I wonder how long it will stick around.