The painted bunting was originally described by Linnaeus in his eighteenth-century work Systema Naturae. There are two recognized subspecies of the painted bunting:
The male painted bunting is often described as the most beautiful bird in North America. Its colors, dark blue head, green back, red rump, and underparts, make it extremely easy to identify, but it can still be difficult to spot since it often skulks in foliage even when it is singing. The plumage of female and juvenile painted buntings are green and yellow-green, serving as camouflage. Once seen, the adult female is still distinctive, since it is one of the only truly green birds native to the United States. Adult painted buntings can measure 12–14 cm (4.7–5.5 in) in length, span 21–23 cm (8.3–9.1 in) across the wings and weigh 13–19 g (0.46–0.67 oz).