How To Find the Rare Painted Bunting at Dorothea Dix Park

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Image of the Dix Park painted bunting by Bob Karp.


For the past three years, visitors to Dorothea Dix Park have been treated to a rare avian sighting for the Raleigh area: the painted bunting. A male has been returning to the park each spring, and local birders couldn’t be more excited—some even driving across the state to catch a glimpse of the beautiful bird. Known for its strikingly colorful plumage, the painted bunting typically favors coastal regions. Its consistent appearances in Raleigh have sparked both excitement and curiosity among bird enthusiasts and casual park-goers alike.

The painted bunting is often hailed as one of North America’s most beautiful birds. Males boast a dazzling array of colors—bright blue heads, green backs, and a red belly. In contrast, females and juveniles display a more subdued green and yellow, which, while less flamboyant, is equally captivating. This bird’s usual range includes the southeastern United States, particularly along the coast from North Carolina to Florida, as well as parts of Texas and Mexico. Seeing them inland is rare.

So far, birders and ornithologists have observed that it is just one male bunting that has been returning to the park each year. Most birders believe it’s the same male, a theory supported by his distinct markings and behaviors. This particular painted bunting has shown a fondness for the trees just beyond the historic graveyard. In a field near the sunflower area, past piles of brush and mulch, there is a path that loops through tall grass, which visitors can take to observe the forest line, where he can often be seen flitting about. 

2023 image of Dorothea Dix Park's painted bunting by Beth Khalifa. IG: @bethglobal

One of the most effective ways to spot the painted bunting—or any bird—is by listening for its distinctive call. The bunting’s song consists of a series of high-pitched, musical notes that blend trills and warbles, often described as sweet and melodic. For bird enthusiasts looking to identify and locate this colorful bird, the Merlin Bird ID app is an invaluable tool, as it contains a feature that will identify a bird call when recorded. By downloading this app onto your smartphone, you can easily identify the painted bunting’s call, as well as that of other birds.

The best time to hear the painted bunting singing is early in the morning or late in the afternoon. During these hours, the bunting’s call can be heard resonating throughout the park, often leading birders to his location. 

Whether you’re an avid birder or just someone who appreciates nature, this colorful visitor offers a chance to connect with the park in an unexpected way. So, the next time you find yourself at Dorothea Dix, you might just add a splash of color to your day. 

As you may know, Dorothea Dix Park recently renovated its historic stone houses as part of an ongoing expansion project. Read all about it in the July/August issue of Midtown, which will hit magazine stands in early July. 

Share a photo of your adventure this summer and you could win a prize! Check out Midtown’s Instagram for details. 

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