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Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis


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Snow Bunting, breeding male
credit: Donna Dewhurst

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Emberizidae, New World Sparrows view all from this family

Description ADULT BREEDING MALE Has mainly white plumage, except for the black back, outer flight feathers, patch on leading edge of wing and tail center. Legs and bill are black. ADULT NONBREEDING MALE Recalls breeding male, but back has orange-buff feather fringes, and similar color is seen on tertial margins and on fringes of feathers of crown, nape, ear coverts, and flanks. Orange-buff fringes wear during winter, revealing black and white plumage by spring. Bill is yellow during the winter months. ADULT FEMALE Recalls a dull male in respective seasonal plumage, but in summer the white elements of the plumage are grubby while the black feathers are fringed brown. JUVENILE Streaked and brownish overall. By first winter, it recalls respective sex winter adult, but with more extensive orange-buff on face and underparts.

Dimensions Length: 6-7 1/4" (15-18 cm)

Habitat Common summer visitor (May-Sep) to barren northern tundra, from northern Canada and Greenland west; winters widely across southern Canada and northern U.S. in grassy fields; occasionally seen on beaches.

Observation Tips Fairly easy to find if you visit the high Arctic in spring. In winter, its precise occurrence is unpredictable and flocks soon abandon previously favored sites if food supply is exhausted.

Range Southeast, Western Canada, Eastern Canada, Mid-Atlantic, New England, Northwest, California, Florida, Plains, Great Lakes, Alaska, Rocky Mountains, Southwest

Voice Song is a tinkling series of twittering whistles; calls include a soft tiu.

Discussion Plump-bodied bunting with "fluffy"-looking plumage and a stubby bill. In flight, note the extensive areas of white on the inner wing. Forms flocks outside breeding season. Sexes are separable and there is distinct seasonal variation in adult plumage.