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North American Birds in Aviculture – the Buntings

Rainbow buntingThe colors of North American’s Buntings rival those of any tropical bird.  Several species are popularly kept in Europe, Asia and Latin America, but laws limit the availability of most in the USA (check a local Softbill Society for legal specimens).  I recently wrote about the Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris), one of the most colorful of the group (please see article below). Today we’ll discuss the Rainbow, Indigo, Versicolor and Lazuli Buntings.

In General

There are a few husbandry tips that apply to all Buntings.  One of the least known is that they relish the resin produced by pine and spruce trees.  Branches from these trees will keep your birds busy for hours.  Many aviculturists believe that something in the resin helps to keep the birds in good color as well.

Finch and Canary Color-Enhancing Foods, which are readily accepted by most Buntings, will also help to maintain their bright coloration.

A wide variety of live and canned insects is important to the health of captive Buntings and essential for nesting pairs.  Canary Seed Mix, Softbill Food, greens and some fruit will round out the diet. Grit and Cuttlebone should always be available.
Indigo bunting

Rainbow Bunting, Passerina leclancheri

This beauty hails from Mexico, and therefore is legally available to aviculturists in the USA.  Sky blue, green, cream, yellow and orange feathers give validity to the “rainbow” part of its name.  A bit more delicate and less cold-tolerant than other Buntings, this is a bird for folks who can maintain a densely-planted outdoor aviary year-round.  A bit of meat hung in the aviary will allow Rainbow Buntings to exhibit their acrobatic skills in snatching flies, a favored food, from the air.

Indigo Bunting, Passerina cyanea

Deep blue feathers suffused with violet and tinted with green assure that you’ll not soon forget your first sighting of this beauty.  Well-known to birders in its natural range – the Eastern and Southern USA and Northern Mexico, Indigo Buntings are also regularly bred by softbill specialists.  As tough as they are beautiful, Indigo Buntings can be wintered outdoors in much of the USA, but are intolerant of other birds.

Lazuli Bunting, Passerina amoena

Blue is an uncommon color in birds, but not so with this native of the Western United States and Mexico.  Sporting both bright blue and slate blue feathers, a breeding Lazuli buntingmale Lazuli Bunting is simply breathtaking to behold, and produces a very pleasing song as well.  Their care follows that of other Buntings, although more fruit is required in the diet.

Versicolor Bunting, Passerina versicolor

True to its name, this Bunting exhibits a great many colors that, while more muted than those of its relatives, none-the-less render it a much-desired species for advanced aviculturists.  The first impression it gives is of a purplish-blue bird, but upon closer examination the deeper purple of the breast and scarlet patches on the head and throat are revealed.  Ranging from the Southern USA through Mexico to Central America, the Versicolor Bunting must be kept in a quiet, protected setting and is intolerant of cold weather.

Further Reading

Please see The Painted Bunting (Passerina ciris) for more information and husbandry advice applicable to all Buntings.

Although native birds are protected by law in the USA, licensed wildlife rehabilitators sometimes have the opportunity to work with injured Buntings.  Please see the website of the National Association of Wildlife Rehabilitators for more information.



Rainbow Bunting chewing wood image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Jerry Oldenettel and Ltshears

Indigo Bunting chewing wood image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Kevin Bolton


  1. avatar

    A very good and detailed article. I live in Texas and many of the buntings listed can be found here. My favorite is the Painted bunting and probably the most common. Thanks for a very informative blog.

  2. avatar

    Hello Jack, Frank Indiviglio here.

    Thanks for the kind words, much appreciated. I look forward to hearing more from you in the future.

    On cranes – a friend in Fla has told me that Sandhills were starting to move north this week.

    Good luck and please keep me posted.

    Best regards, Frank Indiviglio.

  3. avatar

    I just stumbled across this article and was surprised to learn that rainbow buntings are legal to keep in the U.S. I have never seen them before, why are they so rare in aviculture?

  4. avatar

    Hi Will,

    It’s too bad more people do not work with them, but buntings and other “softbills” seem less and less popular in the states; much more interest in Europe, Asia and South America; try keeping an eye on the softbills for sale and similar sites…some allow users to post requests for species.

    best, Frank

  5. avatar

    Could you please tell me how to raise a baby indigo bunting – I found one in Lowes today, it must have come in to the garden department in a shipment of trees. I am not too sure what to feed it. I gave it sugar water with a dropper. Not too sure of age – wings seem fine, so I am hoping I can set it free when it is strong enough. Any advice would be appreciated.
    Many thanks

  6. avatar

    Hi Kim,

    It’s a very difficult process, and internal injuries are often present and must be addressed. natural diet is insects – hundreds per day – moistened catfood and similar diets sometimes work, but best attempted by experienced reabilitators (please see this article) Check online for wildlife rehabilitators in your state and try to transfer bird to one. You can become trained/licensed if you are interested as well. best, frank

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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