Identification of Snow Bunting

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Identification of Snow Bunting

Identification of Snow Bunting

A scarce breeding bird of mountainous northern Britain with an estimated population of between 70-100 pairs (BTO 1988-91).
However in winter, numbers swell to an estimated 9000-14000 individual birds (BTO) with parties of birds found mainly on coastal areas.Well camouflaged, and a real challenge to pick out in ground feeding flocks, snow buntings can be less than obvious, but once encountered they can be remarkably tame and will usually allow close views.Often found on beaches,dunes and estuaries, Snow buntings can brighten up the coldest winter day's birding. In winter male and female birds become harder to separate, but once airborn male birds show more white to the wings with black tips, especially full adult birds. Beware though, there is much variation.
Easily separated from other 'finch' flocks such as linnet and twite as Snow buntings walk and run as opposed to hopping.

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Approximately 16cm long (close in size to Corn Bunting BWP) and with a wingspan of 32–38 cm.The male breeding plumage is unmistakable, with an all white body and a black back and prominent white wing bar; the breeding female (Cairngorm bird photograph) is grey-black whereas the male (last photograph) is solid black. In winter plumage, both sexes are mottled pale ginger, blackish and white above, and pale ginger and white below, with the males having more white than the females. The female bill is a pale cream / yellow with a small black tip, (all black in summer males) ,with both showing a cream /yellow colour in post breeding moult / winter. Legs and feet are dark grey / black.

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'Scottish Snow Buntings begin breeding from mid May, when late snowfalls can still cause desertion and delays.Often,however, there is still time to rear two broods, although second broods contain fewer young and are more likely to succumb to starvation since the mid summer flush of insect activity is largely over.The vagaries of mountain weather,and its effect on invertebrate availability, is therefore ptentially an over-riding factor affecting production.Scraps scavenged from the ever increasing army of hill walkers may modify the effects of weather by supplementing the diet when natural supplies become scarce'.
(The New Atlas of Breeding birds in Britain & Ireland 1988-1991)

Right: Adult Female Summer. Photographed by Robert Freeman Cairngorm mountains Scotland

text 3 Diet: Mainly seeds, with the addition of insects especially when feeding young.Breeding numbers of Snow bunting in the UK can only be a general estimate as their breeding areas are often virtually inaccessible.However, birds ofter appear around the Cairngorm mountain railway, where they readily take to scraps of bread etc, so if you really want an easy way to see them in summer plumage....


Left: Adult male photographed in Iceland by Omar Runolfsson
Classic Books

Classic Books

Desmond Nethersole-Thompson

'The Snow Bunting is a rare bird about the size of a sparrow.It is possibly the most romantic and eluisive bird in the British Isles and certainly the hardiest small bird in the world.The author gives a full description of the bird,dealing with such topics as habits and habitats in Scotland,distribution numbers and movements,which covers all aspects of the life of these seldom seen and little known birds,and summarises excellently what he has learnt not only from personal experience but from relevant literature.Of particular interest to the modern naturalist will be the descriptions of the privations the author underwent in the Cairngorms in order to get this information'.

Hardback;339pp.Colour & b/w photos.A well respected monograph.
Click here for availability

From the Crossley Guide

Snow Bunting from the Crossley ID Guide Britain and Ireland

The Birder's Market | Resource | Birds of Britain and Europe ID Guide | Buntings | Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis |  Identification of Snow Bunting

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