Bird sighting means winter should take wing

Joyce Geiger couldn't mistake the fluttering at her backyard bird feeder Sunday morning, even though several other birds surrounded it.

"A painted bunting really stands out," said the 80-year-old Hilton Head Island retiree. "It was just a joy to see it."

Indeed, the Technicolor creature lives up to its name. With a royal-blue head, bright-red breast and lime-green back, the male painted bunting looks as if it was accidentally dyed when an unsteady artist dropped his neon palette.

But the birds are known for more than just their pretty plumage.

While others rely on groundhogs to forecast a change in the seasons, Lowcountry residents have the painted bunting. Because the birds winter in Florida and Central America and sometimes spend their summers in Beaufort County, sighting a painted bunting in the chilly, early months of the year can be a harbinger of spring.

For the past two decades, it has become a community tradition for the first person to see a painted bunting to call The Island Packet.

Geiger and her husband, Jack, 83, spotted the bird at about 10:30 a.m. Sunday. Their house on Foxbriar Court in Hilton Head Plantation overlooks marsh that is a popular destination for robins, cedar waxwings and buntings, alike.

This isn't the first sighting for the couple. Geiger said she usually sees a painted bunting every year, and she still has the newspaper clipping from 2000, when her first sighting was reported by the Packet.