Shy Jewel of the Hills

This beautiful photograph of a painted bunting was shot by Steven Kazianis, Ph.D.

The first time I ever encountered a painted bunting here above Sulfur Creek, I thought someone’s parakeet had gotten loose. The crew were small then and came running into the house all excited. They had seen this pretty bird that was red and yellow and blue and boy Mom had better come see.

I went out thinking of what we could catch that wandering pet with and came back in looking for my Peterson’ Birds of Texas. I quickly discovered that the bright flash of color I had seen in the garden was not a loose pet but a bright jewel-like critter of the Texas Hills. Most buntings, small seed eating birds of the same family as cardinals, are bright colored. They range from just lightly shaded to vivid or as Peterson describes the painted bunting, “The most gaudily colored American bird.”

The male is deep blue violet on his head, green on his back, red on his body and tail, and his wings are green shading to black at the tips. Now Peterson describes the female as plain and I guess compared to her mate she is. But standing alone, she is a pert little green bird. Her head is a medium green that gradually lightens to a light lemony green on her under parts and tail. Now if you have never had the pleasure of seeing a pair of these jewels of the Hill Country, you have missed out on quite a sight.

They are not like their relative the sparrow the most sociable of birds. They seem to prefer the woods and stream canyons and don’t come around the houses very often. We see them here above Sulfur Creek mostly out past the garden or down in the meadow along the creek. They won’t sit still long for you either. They flit away at a close approach. I guess they’re afraid that human kind might try to cage them like the parakeet. They are summer residents here. They spend their winters in Mexico or Central America. Keep a sharp eye out this summer and maybe you’ll be rewarded by seeing the Jewel of the Hill Country, the painted bunting.

There is one small, white harbinger of summer that you might just keep an eye out for now that the weather is getting a little warmer. It’s called an anemone, but that’s another story.

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Pat Gibson

Pat Gibson

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A writer, an educator, a mom, a grandmother, and a great grandmother…