Aug 07 2017

Kiawah Wildlife Department Collaborates With The Smithsonian

By Stephanie Braswell and Aaron Given for The Island Connection

Painted Buntings return to Kiawah in early April after spending the winter in South Florida, the Bahamas and Cuba.

Painted Buntings return to Kiawah in early April after spending the winter in South Florida, the Bahamas and Cuba.

The Painted Bunting is undoubtedly one of Kiawah Island’s most beautiful birds. The male’s plumage consists of a gaudy palette of blue, red, lime green, pink and purple; a memorable sight and one that is not easily forgotten. The female is more moderately dressed in hues of green and yellow. Painted Buntings return to Kiawah in early April after spending the winter in South Florida, the Bahamas and Cuba. Painted Buntings are not only a popular and flashy display of nature, they are a species of special concern with numbers declining mainly due to loss of habitat. Research on this species is an important component in learning more about various aspects of their life cycle and movements to better conserve the species. Without information about breeding and non-breeding distributions and migratory patterns it is unlikely that effective conservation strategies can be designed to reverse painted bunting declines. (Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, n.d.)

For the past seven years, biologists from the Town of Kiawah Island have been studying Painted Buntings on Kiawah. Buntings are easily captured because they are attracted to bird feeders. Biologist use bird feeders filled with white millet inside a wire cage with a small opening on each side. Once the birds enter the cage, they are unable to get out. Biologist then fit them with a small, lightweight aluminum band placed on their leg. The band has a unique number that identifies each individual bird for the rest of its life. Measurements (wing length and weight) are taken, and an assessment of the health and breeding condition of each bird is noted. This process takes roughly two minutes and then the bird is then released. Since 2011, nearly 750 Painted Buntings have been captured in the backyards of Kiawah Island residents. Of those, 220 had been previously banded.

The adults have remarkable site loyalty and in subsequent years are usually recaptured in the very same yard in which they were banded.

New Research

The Town of Kiawah Island Wildlife department is excited to collaborate with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center on a new component to the Painted Bunting research. This summer 25 adult male Painted Buntings will be fitted with a tracking device called a geolocator.

Geolocators are light sensing devices that record light levels over time. A bird’s position on the globe can be determined by analyzing the data stored on the device and extrapolating the time of sunrise and sunset. The accuracy of the location is coarse and is not useful for fine scale mapping but can be useful for studying migratory connectivity between breeding and wintering areas. It can also be used to identify important staging or stopover sites along the way. To learn more about the project visit: https:// painted-bunting.

Based on nine years of breeding bird surveys (pointcounts), the Painted Bunting population on Kiawah appears to be very stable and does not show any increasing or decreasing trends. There was an increase in the number of detections in 2015 so it will be interested to see if that increase continues. From 2009-2017, the number of Painted Buntings detected during these point-counts were 72, 66, 70, 77, 72, 73, 95, 77 and 88, respectively. The Painted Bunting banding project began in June and will continue through mid-August.

For more information contact Aaron Given at or 843.768.9166.

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