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New World Finches: Emberizidae

Snow Bunting (plectrophenax Nivalis): Species Accounts

Physical characteristics: Snow buntings show differences between males and females, but all have a rounded head, stocky body, and white outer tail feathers. Generally, females are browner in color, with less white on the plumage. Males (in summer) have a white head, black back that sometimes has brown patches, a black rump patched with white, white outer tail feathers partially tipped with black, and white under parts. The white areas, in winter, are thinly coated with pale rusty brown. Females (in summer) look like breeding males, but have a crown that is dusky and black areas are paler, often brownish. In winter, females look like winter males. Juveniles are grayish with a pale abdomen and buffy eye rings. They are 6.0 to 7.5 inches (15 to 19 centimeters) long, and weigh about 1.5 ounces (42 grams).

Geographic range: In the autumn, they migrate to the British Isles, the coast of northern France, Denmark, Poland, Germany, southern Russia, Manchuria, Kuril Islands, Korea, and Hokkaido (the northernmost Japanese island); and in North America to western and southern Alaska and from central and southern Canada south along the Pacific coast to northern California, the central Plains, and coastal North Carolina. In the spring, they move north to Iceland, northern Scotland, the mountains of Sweden and Norway, Spitzbergen, Franz Snow buntings eat insects and other invertebrates during the summer, but switch mostly to seeds and grains in the winter. (Hans Reinhard/Bruce Coleman Inc. Reproduced by permission.) Joseph Land, north Kola Peninsula, Novaya Zemlya, northern Russia and northern Siberia east to Wrangel Island, the Bering Strait, and south to east Kamchatka, northern Alaska and mountains of Alaska, northern Canada north to Labrador, and the coast of Greenland.

Habitat: During breeding season, they are found in sparse, dry, rocky tundra areas such as seashores, mountain slopes, and cliffs. During times of migration and nonbreeding season, they are found in fields, pastures, roadsides, and at beaches.

Diet: Snow buntings eat insects and other invertebrates during the summer, but switch mostly to seeds and grains in the winter.

Behavior and reproduction: They are migratory birds, with males arriving at breeding areas before females. At this time, males find a territory and begin to defend it by chasing away other birds, singing while in flight to make their presence known, and fighting when necessary. They run while on the ground, generally staying on the ground when not flying. Their song, sung during breeding, is a loud, high-pitched musical warbling. Their calls include a sharp, whistled "tew," a short buzz, and a musical rattle or twitter.

Snow buntings are for the most part monogamous birds, but sometimes males or females will have two mates. Nesting occurs from late May through July. Nests are made with dried grassy plants, lichens, and grasses, and look like a large, thick-walled bulky cup. They are constructed on the ground, frequently in rock crevices. Sometimes they build nests in birdhouses and other artificial structures. Females lay between three to nine eggs, but usually from four to seven. The incubation period is from ten to fifteen days, and the fledgling period is from ten to seventeen days after hatching. Both in the breeding pair feed and take care of young.

Snow buntings and people: There is no known significant relationship between people and snow buntings.

Conservation status: Snow buntings are not threatened. ∎

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsNew World Finches: Emberizidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Song Sparrow (melospiza Melodia): Species Accounts, Snow Bunting (plectrophenax Nivalis): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, NEW WORLD FINCHES AND PEOPL