Snow Bunting

Snow Bunting

Scientific name: Plectrophenax nivalis

Did you know: Snow Buntings are the only passerine birds capable of surviving as far north as the Arctic tundra, making them unique in their ability to thrive in such extreme conditions.

What Do Snow Buntings Look Like? (How to Identify Them)

Snow Buntings are distinguished by their remarkable ‘snowy’ plumages. Males, during summer, exhibit a striking contrast with all-white heads and underparts set against black mantles and wingtips. Females, on the other hand, display a more mottled appearance above. 

In autumn and winter, these birds acquire a sandy/buff wash in their plumage, with males showing more mottled upperparts. Measuring 16-17 cm in length with a wingspan of 32-38cm, these birds are easily identified by their unique colour patterns and size.

Differences Between Male and Female Snow Buntings

Male and Female Snow Buntings exhibit distinct differences, especially in breeding season. 

Males boast a bright white head and underbelly contrasted by a black back and wingtips. Females are less vivid, with black wingtips and a rufous back. These differences fade slightly in winter, but the distinction remains noticeable.

What Do Snow Buntings Eat?

Snow Buntings have a diverse diet that changes with the seasons. In colder months, they primarily feed on seeds from various weeds and grasses. Summer brings a shift to invertebrates, including butterflies, flies, and spiders, which are crucial for the growth of their nestlings. Their adaptive feeding habits help them thrive in varied environments.

Where Do Snow Buntings Live? (Including Migration Info)

Snow Buntings are global breeders around the Arctic, from Scandinavia to North America. In the UK, specifically Scotland, they are a scarce breeding species, making them of particular conservation interest. Their winter migration brings them to the north and east of the UK, where they join resident birds. 

The harsh Arctic tundra and rocky habitats are their preferred breeding grounds, while in winter, they seek open habitats like farms and fields.

Bird Calls & Songs (The Unique Voices of Snow Buntings)

Snow Buntings are known for their distinctive rippling whistle and melodious warble, unique to each individual male. These vocalisations play a critical role in communication and mating rituals. 

Male Snow Buntings start singing upon reaching breeding grounds, with their songs reflecting their foraging efficiency and, hence, their suitability as mates.

Fun Snow Bunting Facts (Kid Friendly)

  • Snow Buntings can change their beak colour from yellow to black depending on the season.
  • They are the most northerly recorded passerine bird in the world.
  • Snow Buntings have feathered legs, a unique adaptation to the cold.
  • They can migrate at night, using the Earth’s geomagnetic field for navigation.
  • A group of Snow Buntings is sometimes called a “snowflake”.
  • These birds can survive in temperatures as low as -30 degrees Celsius.
  • Snow Buntings have been known to use buildings for shelter during harsh weather.
  • They are capable of throwing rocks to catch basking spiders.
  • The breeding males have a dramatic black and white summer plumage.
  • In the UK, they are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Facts About The Snow Bunting

Diet: Seeds and insects.
Bird Family: Buntings
Length: 16-17cm
Wingspan: 32-38cm
Weight: 28-50g
Scientific Name: Plectrophenax nivalis

The Snow Bunting Can Be Seen In The UK During The Following Months

  • January
  • February
  • March
  • April
  • May
  • June
  • July
  • August
  • September
  • October
  • November
  • December

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