Snow Bunting

Plectrophenax nivalis
A Snow Bunting specimen on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A medium-sized (6-7 ½ inches) bunting, the male Snow Bunting in summer is most easily identified by its white head and breast, black back, and notched tail. In winter, males become browner on the back, head, and rump while maintaining conspicuous white patches on the wings. Female Snow Buntings in summer are mottled gray above and white below, similarly becoming browner in the winter. Snow Buntings occur across a wide portion of the Northern Hemisphere. In North America, this species breeds along the coast of the Arctic Ocean from Alaska to eastern Canada and Greenland, wintering across southern Canada and the northern United States south to the Mid-Atlantic region. In Eurasia, this species breeds in Iceland, Scotland, northern Scandinavia, and Russia, wintering as far south as Germany, Central Asia, and northern Japan. In summer, Snow Buntings breed on dry tundra with rocky outcrops for nesting and vegetated areas for feeding. In winter, this species may be found in a variety of open habitats, including snowy fields, dunes, and riverbanks. Snow Buntings primarily eat seeds and grains, but may also eat insects when they are available in the warmer months. Due to its remote breeding habitat, most birdwatchers never see Snow Buntings during the summer. In winter, this species may be observed in large flocks foraging for food on grasslands or fields. Snow Buntings may be seen walking or running on the ground as well as in the air flying between feeding areas. This species is primarily active during the day.

DC Information

Uncommon winter visitor from the north, November to March. Found along sandy shores and in fields. The winter plumages are similar in both sexes.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC25936 Plectrophenax nivalis (Snow Bunting)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC16884 Plectrophenax nivalis (Snow Bunting)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC25167 Plectrophenax nivalis (Snow Bunting)