Monday, March 24, 2008

The Bewitching Beauty of the Bunting

Two of our most beautiful buntings will fly in on the soon to be fragrant-filled, moon-silvered April nights. Both species, the painted and the indigo, nest in the Aiken-Augusta area.

The painted is thought to reach its most northern and inland nesting habitat near Augusta, GA at the fall line along the Savannah River. It breeds each spring, though sparingly, in the river bottoms, other low-lands, brier patches and hedgerows.

At one time, Augusta was the only locality in Georgia where the painted bunting bred, or even occurred regularly. Merry Brothers brickyard ponds had several breeding pairs observed each spring.

Wrapped in a patchwork-quilt coat, including his intense violet-blue head and vermilion breast, this 5 1/4 inch bunting is a dazzling beauty. There is no blending of hues of the startling colors but each is definitely defined, as if they are hemstitched together.

A beauty in her own right, and outfitted in a green to yellowish-green dress, the female is one of the truly green birds found in the United States.

In her sparkling green dress, she primps before the dun-colored females of other sparrows and buntings. She knows she's a glowing beauty. The adult male wears his patchwork coat the year-round.

In the last decade or so this colorful little bunting has been observed in Aiken, South Carolina, males in summer, females in winter at feeders.

Arriving about a week before the females from their tropical vacation, courtship begins almost immediately with the male strutting and flying before his intended mate. The lethal battles begin with males fighting for a certain beauty.

Those who have witnessed these battles say they are savage and are often fatal. It just goes to show you can't judge a gentleman by his clothes.

On a warm southwest breeze the indigo bunting comes riding in with a song in his heart. He is a high-spirited little tad in indigo blue. His color changes from dark blue to dark greenish or even blackish as the sun strikes him from different angles. He is a persistent singer and immediately buys up his real estate with song.

While awaiting his mate to arrive, the deep-blue colored male spends his time on the highest singing perch available, pouring out his bewitching song to all who will listen.

He is an impressive and persistent singer and everywhere through all the hot days of May, June, July and August you'll hear his cherry "Swee-swee-swee, swee, swee, sweet-sweet-sweet, swee-swee" from his favorite treetop perch.

When courting, this blue-clad casanova follows the tiny brown-dressed female hour after hour, with hardly a pause in his serenade, until she succumbs to his wiles.

After family duties are ended, the male indigo starts drifting southward with his fellows. He changes his blue serge suit to brown coveralls with pockets stitched in the faintest blue. She follows a few days later dressed in her own little brown dress.

In late summer, out in the field, you are aware something is missing, but what?

As the morning wears on, you hear only one lone indigo singing, and it hits you!

Summer is riding away on the back of a little blue-feathered tad.