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Snow Bunting

From Opus

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


[edit] Identification

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

14–18 cm (5½-7 in)

[edit] Breeding


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


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

[edit] Winter

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

[edit] Similar species

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

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

[edit] Distribution

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.

[edit] Taxonomy

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).

[edit] Subspecies

Four subspecies recognized[1]:

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

[edit] Habitat

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.

[edit] Behaviour

[edit] Diet

The diet includes weed and grass seeds, and insects.

[edit] Breeding

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

[edit] Vocalisation

Song, often in flight display, a short, musical “turee turee tureee turiwee”.

Snow Bunting sound clip

[edit] References

  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
  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.
  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.
  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 on 2 September 2018).
  6. Wikipedia contributors. (2018, August 3). Snow bunting. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 09:35, September 2, 2018, from

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