What Do Painted Buntings Eat? (Easy Guide to Feeding Them)

Painted buntings eat seeds and insects.

They like wild grasses, agricultural crop seeds, and also some common seeds at bird feeders.

But during their breeding season, their dietary needs change and insects like grasshoppers and spiders make for good eating.

Let’s dive into the food preferences of painted buntings.

Key Takeaways:

  • Painted buntings primarily feed on seeds from various plants, including wild grass and agricultural crops.
  • During breeding season, these colorful birds start consuming insects.
  • If you want to attract painted buntings to bird feeders, offer millet in bird feeders that are close enough to some brushy vegetation for safety and comfort.

The Painted Bunting Species

Male painted bunting on a log
Male painted bunting on a log

One of the most eye-catching birds you might come across is the Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris). This small, colorful bird can brighten your day with its vibrant plumage.

In the world of buntings, the painted bunting is truly a standout, especially as a comparison to the more subdued colors of Indigo Buntings.

As you observe painted buntings, you’ll notice that males are significantly more colorful than their female counterparts.

Males boast a striking combination of blue, green, and red feathers, earning them the nickname “nonpareil,” which means “unrivaled” or “without equal.”

On the other hand, females have a more modest appearance, featuring greenish-yellow feathers that allow them to blend in with their surroundings.

Read Next: How to Attract Painted Buntings

What Do Painted Buntings Eat?

Painted bunting eating seed from a plant
Painted bunting eating seed from a plant

The primary sources of nutrition for painted buntings are seeds and insects, though some berries may make it into their diets.

Let’s break down their food preferences one by one.


Seeds make up the bulk of a painted bunting diet.

These birds eat seeds from wild grasses, forbs, and weeds but will also dig into agricultural crop seeds like wheat.

Some seeds that these colorful birds enjoy include:

  • Wheat
  • Bristle grass
  • Panic grass
  • St. John’s Wort
  • Pigweed
  • Switchgrass
  • Amaranthus
  • Wood sorrel
  • Sedges
  • Spurge

At bird feeders, painted buntings will happily dine on small seeds like white proso millet and nyjer.


Painted buntings eat seeds throughout the year, but during breeding season, they tend to eat more insects.

They’ll consume bugs such as:

  • Beetles
  • Grasshoppers
  • Caterpillars
  • Flies
  • Snails
  • Wasps
  • Weevils

If you see young painted buntings, you’ll notice that they are often fed insects to provide essential nutrients for their growth and development.


Feeding on various invertebrates, fruits, and berries, Painted buntings are versatile foragers.

While fruits and berries don’t make up a usual part of their diets, they have been known to sample blueberries, strawberries, and figs.

Do Painted Buntings Come to Feeders?

Male and female painted buntings perched at a bird feeder
Male and female painted buntings perched at a bird feeder

Painted buntings will come to bird feeders under the right conditions.

In your feeders, offer these items primarily:

  • White proso millet
  • Nyjer seed

Sunflower seeds may also be added to the bird seed mix, especially if it already contains millet.

However, they may take or leave sunflower seeds in favor of millet or nyjer.

You might suspect that as insect-eaters, painted buntings would like mealworms.

Possbly, they may accept mealworms during their breeding season in late spring to summer, which is when they become more insectivorous.

You may also decide to throw some small berries and fruits like figs and strawberries on a platform feeder for them, although fruit should not be considered a primary or even favored food source.

Bear in mind, painted buntings are sensitive to their environment and may not visit feeders if they feel threatened or uncomfortable.

So providing a safe and comfortable habitat with shrubs near your feeders can help entice them.

How Can I Attract Painted Buntings to My Yard?

painted bunting bird in a tangle of woody vines
Painted bunting in a tangle of woody vines

To make the environment comfortable for Painted Buntings and attract them to your yard, you can take the following steps:

  1. Provide natural food sources: Most of all, painted buntings are attracted to natural food sources. So grow plants and native grasses they feed from (switchgrass and St. John’s wort, for example), which will also attract bugs they like to eat.
  2. Offer fresh water: All birds need a source of fresh water. A bird bath or fountain can provide a place for the birds to drink and bathe.
  3. Avoid using pesticides: Pesticides can harm birds and their food sources, so using natural alternatives and organic practices in your yard or garden is preferable.
  4. Provide shelter: Planting shrubs, native grasses, or a few trees can provide a place for the birds to hide and rest.
  5. Use bird feeders: Stock your feeders with millet. Also, be sure to keep the feeders clean and in a safe location away from predators.

What Is the Favorite Food of a Painted Bunting?

In the wild, grass and weed seeds are the mainstays of their diets.

In bird feeders, white proso millet is this bird’s favorite.

So be sure to add these to your offerings if you want to feed painted buntings!

What Is the Best Bird Feed for Painted Buntings?

Painted bunting on a caged bird feeder
Painted bunting on a caged bird feeder

The best bird feed you can buy for painted buntings is white proso millet.

This is available by the bag, and it’s fine to give to these birds on its own.

Or, you can purchase a mix of seeds like white millet, nyjer, and sunflower chips.

What Type of Bird Feeder Is Best for Painted Buntings?

A caged bird feeder is best for painted buntings.

Either this, or a tube feeder with a weighted mechanism that senses bigger birds like blue jays and crows and discourages them from eating.

Choose bird feeders with small perches or feeding trays designed for small birds. These features make it easier for Painted Buntings to access the feeder and eat comfortably.

A feeder with a cover or roof can also provide added protection from weather and larger birds.

Where Is the Best Place to Put a Painted Bunting Feeder?

The best place for a painted bunting bird feeder is a spot in your yard that offers some shelter and security in the form of brush and low shrubs.

Typically, this will be around the edges of your yard, in a quieter spot away from high traffic.

Larger birds will intimidate painted buntings, so consider having a separate feeder for them away from the high-traffic feeders, or multiple feeders around.

During Which Season Are Painted Buntings Most Likely to Visit Bird Feeders?

Painted Buntings visit bird feeders after about midsummer once breeding season comes to a close.

This is a good time to offer seeds like millet and nyjer for them.

What Plants Attract Painted Buntings?

Native grasses and wildflowers produce seeds, and fruit-bearing plants, such as mulberries and blackberries, offer additional food options for these birds.

Here are some good planting options to attract painted buntings:

  • Switchgrass
  • Sedges
  • Little bluestem
  • Indiangrass
  • St. John’s wort

Also, be sure to include some shrubs and/or small trees with a high leaf density to provide good cover for the birds.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you keep painted buntings as pets?

No, it’s illegal to keep painted buntings as pets.

These birds are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which makes it illegal to capture, kill, or sell them.

Also important to note is that painted buntings are not suitable as pets as they require a specific habitat and diet to survive.

Where do painted buntings go in the summer?

Painted buntings breed in the coastal Southeast and in the south-central United States, where they often come to feeders.

In the summer, they migrate to their wintering grounds in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean.

Do painted buntings like mealworms?

Painted Buntings primarily eat seeds, but they also eat insects during the spring and early summer.

While they may eat mealworms, they are not a preferred food source for these birds.

What color is a female painted bunting?

Female Painted Buntings are a distinctive bright green with a pale eyering.

They lack the bright colors of the males, which are blue, green, yellow, and red.

Are painted buntings shy?

Painted buntings can be shy and elusive, particularly when they are hiding in dense cover.

However, they can also be bold and curious, especially when they are visiting bird feeders.

Do painted buntings use nest boxes?

Painted buntings do not typically use nest boxes.

They prefer to build their nests in dense shrubs or low tree branches, usually within 3-5 feet of the ground.

Will buntings eat safflower seeds?

It’s possible to get painted buntings to eat safflower seeds.

But they prefer millet and nyjer.

If you want to try safflower seeds for painted buntings, include a small amount in their preferred seed mix to introduce it and see what they do.

Are painted buntings year round in Florida?

Painted buntings are year-round residents in southern Florida, where they can be found in brushy areas and woodland edges.

However, they are only summer residents in other parts of the United States, as they migrate to their wintering grounds in the fall.

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