“Bunting” – What an interesting word.

To a baseball fan it is the act of laying down a bunt where the batter squares up to the pitched ball and if he can make contact either “drags” it along the first base line or perhaps pushes it towards the third base line.  The former is generally an attempt for the batter to get a hit and reach base safely himself.  The latter is more often a sacrifice bunt where the batter will be thrown out at first base, but in the process other base runners will advance – either from first to second or from second to third and will thus be in “scoring position”.  An extreme form is the “suicide squeeze” where the batter tries to bunt home the runner who is on third base.  Bunting has become a dying art in the home run happy world of modern baseball, but bunting is still an exciting part of the game.

Mickey Mantle – my All-Time Favorite – Drag Bunting


To a patriotic celebrant, bunting is a kind of decoration often made of cloth – particularly including for example the stars and stripes of the American flag used as decoration.  This kind of bunting is particularly popular at Fourth of July picnics and political conventions.

Patriotic Bunting


Much more importantly to me (now that Mickey Mantle is long gone at least) as a birder I now think of Buntings in taxonomic terms as any of various stout-billed passerine birds (families Cardinalidae and Emberizidae) of which some are grouped with the cardinal and some with the New World sparrows.  This blog post is prompted by the recent appearance of the aptly named Painted Bunting that obligingly continues to visit a feeder in LaConner, Washington.  It does not belong here and is very rare in our state.  Dozens of birders have made the journey to the feeder and have left very happy.  Accompanied by Steve Pink and Jon Houghton, we were able to see and photograph this “chased” bird approximately one minute after arriving on site.  It was THAT cooperative!

Painted Bunting – LaConner, Washington November 18, 2017

Painted Bunting1

Although I saw some in Florida earlier this year and had seen them in Texas as well, my only other Painted Bunting in Washington was on Siwash Creek Road Near Tonasket on July 8, 2012.  Steve had seen the one that hung around Capital Hill in Seattle in March 2002 (another had been seen in Neah Bay in 2013) and this one is just the 4th State Record.  It was a state lifer for Jon.
After our LaConner visit we drove around the Samish and Skagit flats areas looking for among other species, Snow Buntings.  In heavy wind we were unsuccessful but the success with the Painted Bunting more than made up for that.  In the process we talked about other Buntings seen in Washington – or that we had seen elsewhere in the world – thus this blog post.
There are seven (7) Bunting species that have been seen in Washington.  They are: Lazuli Bunting (a fairly common breeder); the aforementioned Snow Bunting (regular but uncommon in winter – except in often very large flocks in snow covered fields in Eastern Washington);  McKay’s Bunting – a close relative of the Snow Bunting – that breeds on islands in the Bering Sea area and is very rarely seen in Washington (fewer than 10 records all from the Ocean Shores area); Indigo Bunting – another rarity here but common elsewhere in the U.S.; Lark Bunting – an extremely rare vagrant that is common in the Plains but with only three Washington records from Walla Walla, Tokeland and Tatoosh Island – all in the mid 1990’s; Rustic Bunting – an Asian Bunting that is a rare but regular migrant in Western Alaska and has made it to Washington less than a handful of times; and Little Bunting – an even rarer Asian vagrant with only a single state record on EBird from the Ocean Shores area in October 2015.  (I think there may also have been one in Whatcom County.)  I could write an entire blog about the Ocean Shores observation but it would not be good for my blood pressure and name calling and ranting and raving are never good things to do in print…
The Lazuli Bunting is not as striking as the Painted Bunting but it is a real looker and is readily found in drier areas in the summer.
Lazuli Bunting
Lazuli Bunting
I covered the Snow Bunting in previous blogs and include its photo from one of them.  I have seen them singularly or in small groups in many areas and in flocks of over 100 birds in the Waterville Plateau.
Snow Bunting
Snow Bunting 1
Same for the McKay’s Bunting which I was fortunate to see at Damon Point in Washington in February 1979 but which I missed by a day in February 2012.  The picture is not mine.  It is from Chuck Jensen of that 2012 bird.  Somewhat analogously with the Common and Hoary Redpolls, many people think that the McKay’s Bunting is just a subspecies of the Snow Bunting.  I hope they remain separate.
McKay’s Bunting
I saw my first Indigo Bunting in Washington with Samantha Robinson at Steigerwald NWR on June 1, 2014.  Later I saw one in Mukilteo on March 13, 2016 and then three months later in Lewis County.  My most recent observation was on the road into Wenas this June.  This bird was very territorial and cooperative and was seen by many birders.
Indigo Bunting
Indigo Bunting3
I have not seen a Lark Bunting in Washington.  I first saw one in Presho, S.D. as I drove across the U.S. way back in 1969.  Although I was not a birder then, I had a firm memory of seeing this odd black and white bird in flocks across the prairie.  I finally found another one in Arizona this August and got this very poor photo.
Lark Bunting – Arizona August 2017
Lark Bunting .jpg
No observation and thus no photo by me of the Little Bunting – maybe someday.  Just to be all inclusive, I include one of the Ocean Shores bird taken by Dave Slager.
Little Bunting – Ocean Shores Area 2015 – Photo by Dave Slager
Finally in Washington, there is the Rustic Bunting – again covered previously.  I have been fortunate to have seen both Washington records – Neah Bay discovered by Cara Borre and in Kent in December 1987 (it was apparently there in part of the winters of 1986 – 1989.  The photo is my poor one from December 7 last year.
Rustic Bunting
Rustic Bunting
In addition to the seven Washington Buntings, another 8 Bunting species are included in the official ABA Checklist – mostly very rare vagrants seen only on remote Alaskan islands.  The only common one is the Varied Bunting which I saw on my Arizona trip this August.
Varied Bunting
Varied Bunting
I know that I keep track of (or at least notice) far too many birding statistics or lists, but I thought it was cool that in the past year (12 months not calendar year), I had seen seven Bunting species.  That observation led me to wonder how many Bunting species I had seen world wide.  Ebird makes it very easy to answer questions like this and I found that at some point during my life I had seen 16 Bunting species.  In addition to the eight in the U.S. I had seen Blue Bunting in Belize in March 2010, Meadow Bunting in Japan in 1983, Golden Breasted and Somali Buntings in Kenya in November 2007, Cape Bunting in South Africa in October 2014 and Black-faced, Crested and Yellow Breasted Buntings at the incredible Mai Po Nature Reserve outside of Hong Kong back on Christmas Day in 1979.
I was not taking pictures during most of those times.  Thus many photos are missing but I am happy to have some to add to this blog post.
Golden Breasted Bunting  –  Kenya 2007
Golden Breasted Bunting
Cape Bunting – South Africa 2014
Cape Bunting
Blue Bunting – Belize – 2010
Blue Bunting
All told there are almost 50 Bunting species in the world, so I have barely scratched the surface.  If I were making a wish list, I guess first I would like to see and photograph in Washington ANY of the Bunting species that have not been seen here previously.  After that I guess it would be to see and photograph a Little Bunting in Washington (getting rid of that angst in the process) and then to again see and finally photograph a McKay’s Bunting in the state.  I am happy with all of the ones I have seen and photographed – mostly striking birds – led by the Painted Bunting.  But each day is a new opportunity – one of those days will provide an opportunity to go Bunting again.

One thought on “Buntings

  1. That’s one beautiful bird! I’ve seen them in Arizona and many many many in Texas but they never can dissapoint and I get joy seeing them over and over again including going to see this one in La Conner. Very gracious of the homeowner to let us look! Great shot and congrats.


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