One wonders what life was like in the days of our forefathers, when the woodlands flashed with the greens and golds of flocks of Carolina parakeets. Those days are lost forever, lost to hunters (who took the birds for their decorative feathers) and agriculture. However, a similar thrill of a newfound treasure takes possession of one’s emotions when a painted bunting descends to the garden bird feeder to sample available temptations.
To clearly see a bunting in spring regalia for the first time is unforgettable. There are those who can’t tell a bald eagle from a vulture or know that it would be misleading to suggest a robin has any more than a superficial resemblance to a dove, yet the rainbow coloration of the male painted bunting would be hard to mistake.
Despite the painted bunting’s crown of intense purple, neon yellow-green nape finished off in black and brilliant red, this shy bird eludes detection. “This is a hard bird to see,” writes wildlife author Henry Hill Collins. “Though I have often tried, I have never been able to show it to my wife, who says she hardly believes that such a beautiful bird can exist outside a bird book.”
Ornithologists suggest that painted bunting are native to our south-central states and into Mexico, yet Carolina coastal folks have long been aware of a sizable population that survives along their sand and saltmarsh regions. The brilliant birds usually appear with newly hatched young about the same time as the Easter egg.
Long live Carolina’s little seen, mysterious bird that brightens our springtime mornings.