People passionate about nature

Snow Bunting

Above: Snow Bunting by Garry Budyk

How do I recognize it?

Snow Buntings sport a range of plumages, depending on time of year, life stage and sex.  The inner wings are always white, with black wingtips.  The tail is black and white.  Breeding males are a crisp white with a black back.  Mature females are more subtly coloured above with a dusky head and streaky back.  Breeding individuals have a dark bill that turns orangish in the non-breeding season.  Immature males are whitish below; the crown of the head, as well as the ears and shoulders, are rust-tinged and they have a streaky back.  Immature females bear a rust-tinged face and breast. 

Above: Snow Bunting by Garry Budyk

Does it migrate?

Following the summer breeding season, Snow Buntings migrate from the high arctic to wintering grounds in southern Canada to central United States (excepting the west coast).  Some males return to the nesting grounds as early as early April, up to six weeks before the females. 

Above: Snow Buntings in flight by Christian Artuso

Where does it live?

Snow Buntings spend the summer on the tundra, where nesting typically occurs in rock crevices.  Nests are placed at the back of crevices, out of sight of predators.  Two to seven eggs are laid.

Above: Snow Bunting by Christian Artuso

Where can I see it?

By mid-October, the first Snow Buntings have returned to southern Manitoba (around early October in the north of the province).  Look for foraging flocks in open areas such as stubble fields, roadsides and lakeshores (Oak Hammock Marsh and Lac du Bonnet areas, Hecla/Grindstone Provincial Park, Patricia and Victoria beaches, Riding Mountain National Park).  Snow Buntings are restless and are often seen in flight as they move from one location to another.  Flocks may reach thousands of individuals but are often smaller.  They frequently accompany flocks of Lapland Longspurs.

Conservation Status:

At present, this hardy songbird is thought to be common. 

Did you know:

In some parts of Canada and the United States, Snow Buntings were once considered a delicacy.  These small passerines were harvested by the thousands and sold at open market – thankfully for the bunting, this practice is now illegal.