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Snow Bunting - BirdForum Opus

Breeding male
Photo © by Rob
Svalbard, June 2003
Plectrophenax nivalis


Female,Winter plumage
Photo © by postcardcv
Salthouse, Norfolk, England, 28 February 2006

14–18 cm (5½-7 in)



  • Black back, legs, wing tips and bill
  • Rest of plumage white


  • Greyish-black back
  • Brown crown and cheeks
  • White wing patch


  • Tawny-brown back
  • Gingery-buff crown, cheeks and chest patches
  • Buff underparts
  • Black-tipped yellow bill

Similar species

McKay's Bunting in Alaska is very similar but generally whiter.

Female, Summer plumage
Photo © by peterday
St. Paul Island, The Pribilofs, Alaska, 18 June 2017


Found on the tundra of the northern hemisphere in North America and Eurasia. Winter visitor in Britain & Ireland (mostly mid Sep-Apr), mainly from Scandinavia and Greenland, but small numbers breed in Scotland.


Formerly classified with other buntings in the Emberizidae, Snow Buntings are now placed in a new family, the Calcariidae along with the Longspurs based on a molecular study by Alström et al. (2008).


Four subspecies recognized[1]:

Photo © by Joseph Morlan
Longyearbyen, Svalbard, 21 July 2018


Breeds on tundra in the north and on high mountain tops with similar habitat further south. Winters largely on sandy and shingle coasts, salt marsh and rough coastal fields.



The diet includes weed and grass seeds, and insects.


It builds an open cup of moss and grass, lined with fine grasses, rootlets, and fur and feathers which is placed well back in cavity in rocks, such as cracks.

The clutch consists of 2-7 creamy white, with variable brown spots and scrawls.

Photo © by IanF
North Gare Pier, Seaton Carew, Cleveland, UK, 16 November 2008


Song, often in flight display, a short, musical “turee turee tureee turiwee”. Snow Bunting sound clip


  1. Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2018. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: v2018. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
  2. Birdwatchers Pocket Guide ISBN 1-85732-804-3
  3. Alström P, Olsson U, Lei F, Wang HT, Gao W, Sundberg P (2008). "Phylogeny and classification of the Old World Emberizini (Aves, Passeriformes)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 47 (3): 960–73. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2007.12.007
  4. Montgomerie, R. and B. Lyon (2011). Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.198
  5. Rising, J. (2018). Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from https://www.hbw.com/node/61857 on 2 September 2018).
  6. Wikipedia contributors. (2018, August 3). Snow bunting. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 09:35, September 2, 2018, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Snow_bunting&oldid=853238240

Recommended Citation

External Links

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