- 5.9 in
- 11.8 in
- 1.1–1.6 oz
- Bruant des neiges (French)
- The male Snow Bunting returns to its high Arctic breeding grounds in early April, when temperatures can still dip as low as -30° C (-22° F) and snow still covers most of the ground. The female does not return until four to six weeks later.
- Early arriving Snow Bunting males set up and defend territories that include good nesting sites. They will still come together in flocks to forage, and usually roost in loose groups of from 30 to 80 birds.
- The Snow Bunting places its nest deep in cracks or other cavities in rocks. Although such nest sites are relatively secure from predators, rocks are cold. The thick nest lining of fur and feathers helps keep the eggs and nestlings warm, but the female must remain on the nest for most of the incubation period. The male feeds her while she is incubating so that she does not need to leave the nest very often.
- Although breeding and nonbreeding males look quite different, the Snow Bunting has only one molt each year and no true "Alternate Plumage." After the molt in the late summer the male looks brownish with a brown and black striped back. Underneath the colored feather tips, the back feathers are pure black and the body feathers all are white. The male wears off all of the feather tips by actively rubbing them on snow, and he is immaculate white and jet black by the time breeding begins.
- The oldest recorded Snow Bunting was a male, and at least 8 years, 9 months old when he was recpatured and rereleasued during banding operations in Alaska.
Breeds on rocky tundra. Winters in open weedy and grassy fields and along shores of lakes and oceans.
Weed and grass seeds, insects.
- Clutch Size
- 2–7 eggs
- Egg Description
- Creamy white with variable brown spots and scrawls.
- Condition at Hatching
- Helpless, with long, gray-brown down.
Open cup of moss and grass, lined with fine grasses, rootlets, and fur and feathers. Placed well back in cavity in rocks, such as cracks.
Walks on ground and pecks at food. May jump up to take seeds from taller stems.
There is little information on Snow Bunting population trends. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 30 million with 50% spending at least part of the year in Canada, and 25% wintering in the U.S. The species rates a 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Snow Bunting is a U.S.-Canada Stewardship species and is listed on the 2014 State of the Birds Report as a Common Bird in Steep Decline.
- Lyon, B., and R. Montgomerie. 1995. Snow Bunting and McKay's Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis and Plectrophenax hyperboreus). In The Birds of North America, No. 198-199 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
- North American Bird Conservation Initiative, U.S. Committee. 2014. State of the Birds 2014 Report. U.S. Department of Interior, Washington, DC.
- Partners in Flight. 2012. Species assessment database.
- USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 2015. Longevity records of North American Birds.