Snow bunting

Snow bunting
Plectrophenax nivalis

Photo by David Beadle (Internet Bird Collection)

Common name:
snow bunting (en); escrevedeira-das-neves (pt); plectrophane des neiges (fr); escribano nival (es); schneeammer (de)

Order Passeriformes
Family Emberizidae

This species breeds throughout the northernmost parts of Europe, Asia and North America, from Iceland and Scandinavia to northern Siberia and Kamchatka, in Alaska and northern Canada and along the western and southern coast of Greenland. They migrate south to winter as far south as England, northern France, Hungary, Romania, Kazakhstan, northern China, northern Japan and Colorado and Virginia in the United States. Some population in Alaska and Iceland are resident.

These birds are 15-19 cm long and have a wingspan of 30-33 cm. They weigh 30-46 g.

They breed in tundra grasslands and rocky areas such as boulder fields or sea cliffs near vegetated areas. Outside the breeding season the snow bunting they are are found in coastal areas, along lake shores, saltmarshes, and also in tundra grasslands and agricultural areas.

They forage on the ground, taking the seeds of various grasses, weed and sedges, buds and also insects, spiders and small marine crustaceans.

Snow buntings are monogamous and breed in May-July. The nest is built by the female, consisting of a thick-walled cup made of moss and grass, lined with fine grasses, rootlets, fur and feathers. It is placed in a rock cavity or crack, or in some cases in human-made sites, including buildings, rubble, barrels, boxes and metal cans. The female lays 2-7 creamy-white eggs with brown spots, which she incubates alone for 10-15 days. The chicks are fed by both parents and fledge 10-15 days after hatching, but continue to receive food from the parents for another 8-12 days. In Arctic regions each pair raises a single brood per season, but they may raise 2 broods in more southern areas.

IUCN status – LC (Least Concern)
This species has a very large breeding range and the global population estimated to be over 40 million individuals. The population is North America has undergone a large decline of over 20% per decade over the last 4 decades. The reasons for this decline are unknown, but may be linked to a shift in the species’ distribution as a result of climate change. The use of pesticides may pose a threat to snow buntings in some parts of their range.

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