Snow BuntingPlectrophenax nivalis
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Calcariidae
Cold and dark winter days come alive with the flurry of black-and-white Snow Buntings tumbling in flight across barren fields and lakeshores. These restless birds flock up by the hundreds in winter, scattering across Canada and the United States. Snow Buntings breed in the high Arctic among rocky crevices where their crisp white plumage blends in with the snowy landscape. In the winter they acquire rusty tones that help them blend in with their winter homes of bare ground and crop stubble.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Unless you fancy a trip to the high arctic in summer, winter is the time to go looking for Snow Buntings. Look for them in crop stubble and along lakeshores where debris forms a ring around the water's edge. When they forage they tend to crouch down and blend in extremely well with the ground; even if you don't think you see anything, give the ground a scan and look for movement. Snow Buntings are also restless during the winter and fly to a new spot every 10 minutes or so. Look for a flurry of black-and-white as they dash off to a new foraging spot.
- Escribano Nival (Spanish)
- Plectrophane des neiges (French)
- Cool Facts
- Male Snow Buntings head to their high arctic breeding grounds when the ground is still covered in snow and temperatures can dip to -22° F. That doesn't seem like a good time to arrive, but males need to arrive early to make sure they get one of the limited nesting spots in a rock crevice. Females join them 3 to 4 weeks later when things start to warm up.
- 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 stay on the nest for most of the incubation period. Because the female can't leave the nest very often, the male brings her food almost every 15 minutes.
- Although breeding and nonbreeding Snow Buntings look quite different, the change from nonbreeding to breeding plumage isn't caused by growing in a new set of feathers (molt). The change from brownish to pure white happens when males rub their bellies and heads on the snow, wearing down the brown feather tips to reveal immaculate white features below.
- The oldest recorded Snow Bunting was a male, and at least 8 years, 9 months old when he was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Alaska, the same state where he had been banded.