- Snow Bunting
name = Snow Bunting
status = LC
status_system = iucn3.1
image_width = 240px
image_caption = Male in breeding plumage, Alaska
genus = "
species = "P. nivalis"
binomial = "Plectrophenax nivalis"
binomial_authority = (Linnaeus,
synonyms ="Passerina nivalis"
The Snow Bunting ("Plectrophenax nivalis"), sometimes colloquially called "
snowflake", is a passerine birdin the bunting family Emberizidae. It is an arcticspecialist, with a circumpolarArctic breeding range throughout the northern hemisphere. There are small isolated populations on a few high mountain tops south of the Arctic region, including the Cairngormsin central Scotlandand the Saint Elias Mountainson the southern Alaska- Yukonborder.Byers, C., Olsson, U., & Curson, J. (1995). "Buntings and Sparrows". Pica Press ISBN 1-873403-19-4.]
The breeding habitat is on
tundra, treeless moors, and bare mountains. It is migratory, wintering a short distance further south in open habitats in northern temperate areas, typically on either sandy coasts, steppes, prairies, or low mountains, more rarely on farmland stubble. In winter, it forms mobile flocks.
It is fairly large and long-winged for a bunting, 15-18 cm long and with a wingspan of 32–38 cm, and weighing 26–50 g. In flight, it is easily identified by its large white wing patches. The breeding male is unmistakable, with all white plumage and a black back; the breeding female is grey-black where the male 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 bill is yellow with a black tip, all black in summer males. Unlike most passerines, it has feathered tarsi, an adaptation to its harsh environment. No other passerine can winter as far north as this species apart from the
Common Raven.Snow, D. W. & Perrins, C. M. (1998). "The Birds of the Western Palearctic" Concise Edition. OUP ISBN 0-19-854099-X.]
The call is a distinctive rippling whistle, "per,r,r,rit" and the typical "Plectrophenax" warble "hudidi feet feet feew hudidi".
It builds its bulky nest in rock crevices. The eggs are blue-green, spotted brown, and hatch in 12–13 days, and the young are already ready to fly after a further 12–14 days.
There are four
subspecies, which differ slightly in the plumage pattern of breeding males:
*"Plectrophenax nivalis nivalis". Arctic Europe, Arctic North America. Head white, rump mostly black with a small area of white.
*"Plectrophenax nivalis insulae". Iceland, Faroe Islands, Scotland. Head white with a blackish collar, rump black.
*"Plectrophenax nivalis vlasowae". Arctic Asia. Head white, rump mostly white.
*"Plectrophenax nivalis townsendi". Aleutian Islands, Kamchatka, coastal far eastern Siberia. As "vlasowae", but slightly larger.
It is very closely related to the
Beringian McKay's Bunting, which differs in having even more white in the plumage. Hybrids between the two occur in Alaska,Sibley, D. (2000). "The Sibley Guide to Birds". National Audubon Society ISBN 0-679-45122-6] and they have been considered conspecific by some authors,Voous, K. (1977). List of Recent Holarctic Bird Species, part III. "Ibis" 119: 376-406.] though are generally treated separate species. American Ornithologists' Union: "Checklist of North American Birds".]
The species is not endangered at present, with good populations. [IUCN2006|assessors=BirdLife International|year=2004|id=53543|title=Plectrophenax nivalis|downloaded=12 May 2006 Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern] It shows little fear of humans, and often nests around buildings in Arctic areas, readily feeding on grain or other scraps put out for it.
last ice age, the Snow Bunting was widespread throughout continental Europe. [Tomek, T., & Bocheński, Z. (2005). Weichselian and Holocene bird remains from Komarowa Cave, Central Poland. "Acta Zoologica Cracoviensia" 48A (1-2): 43-65. [http://www.ingentaconnect.com/search/download?pub=infobike%3a%2f%2fisez%2fazc%2f2005%2f00000048%2fF0020001%2fart00005&mimetype=application%2fpdf PDF fulltext] ]
* [http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/Snow_Bunting.html Snow Bunting Species Account] - Cornell Lab of Ornithology
* [http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/id/framlst/i5340id.html Snow Bunting "Plectrophenax nivalis"] - USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter
* [http://www.bird-stamps.org/cspecies/20230700.htm Stamps] (with world range map)
* [http://ibc.hbw.com/ibc/phtml/especie.phtml?idEspecie=9625 Snow Bunting videos] on the Internet Bird Collection
* [http://www.arkive.org/species/ARK/birds/Plectrophenax_nivalis/ ARKive] Images
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