Photo: Rick & Nora Bowers/Vireo

Varied Bunting

Passerina versicolor

Brushy country near the Mexican border provides a summer home for this elegant bunting. The dense and thorny nature of its habitat may make it seem hard to approach, but the bird is not especially shy, and sometimes may be watched at very close range. In Arizona, where its nesting is timed to the summer rains, male Varied Buntings may be in full song on mornings in August.
Conservation status Still locally common in southwestern United States, although some habitat has been lost. Probably declining in parts of its Mexican range, as overgrazing (especially by goats) degrades its habitat.
Family Cardinals, Grosbeaks and Buntings
Habitat Streamside thickets, brush. In United states found mostly in areas of dense thorny brush, often with an upper story of scattered trees. Prime habitat is usually in canyons and along streams, but in some areas may be in flat desert away from water if brush is dense.
Brushy country near the Mexican border provides a summer home for this elegant bunting. The dense and thorny nature of its habitat may make it seem hard to approach, but the bird is not especially shy, and sometimes may be watched at very close range. In Arizona, where its nesting is timed to the summer rains, male Varied Buntings may be in full song on mornings in August.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • adult male
  • adult female
Feeding Behavior

Forages at various levels from ground up into shrubs and trees. Probably takes insects from leaves, seeds from ground or stems, berries from shrubs. Forages alone in summer, but may gather in small flocks in winter.


Eggs

4, sometimes 3, rarely 5. White to bluish-white, unmarked. Incubation is by female only, about 12-13 days. Young: Fed by both parents, leaving nest after about 12 days. For a few days after fledging, brood may split, 2 young going with female and 2 with male; then male may take over care of all young while female starts another nesting attempt. Often 2 broods per year, perhaps sometimes 3.


Young

Fed by both parents, leaving nest after about 12 days. For a few days after fledging, brood may split, 2 young going with female and 2 with male; then male may take over care of all young while female starts another nesting attempt. Often 2 broods per year, perhaps sometimes 3.

Diet

Probably seeds and insects. Diet poorly known. In breeding season probably feeds mostly on insects, also some seeds, berries. Food brought to young at nest is mostly insects. Winter diet probably includes more seeds.


Nesting

Nests mostly in late summer in Arizona (after summer rains begin), in early summer in Texas. Male defends territory with song, and with fluttering flight display directed at intruding males. Nest site is in dense shrub, low tree, or vine, usually 2-5' above ground, sometimes up to 12'. Nest (built by both parents) is compact open cup, mostly of dry grass and weeds, lined with finer materials.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Most leave the United States in winter, probably moving only a short distance south into Mexico. Recently discovered wintering in small numbers in Big Bend region of Texas.

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Migration

Most leave the United States in winter, probably moving only a short distance south into Mexico. Recently discovered wintering in small numbers in Big Bend region of Texas.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A series of sweet notes, each note or phrase repeated.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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