Scientific name: Plectrophenax nivalis
Status: Winter visitor and scarce breeder
Breeding birds: 60 pairs
Wintering birds: 10,000 – 15,000 birds
Conservation status: Amber
Length: 16 – 17 cm
Wingspan: 32 – 38 cm
Weight: 28 – 50 g
Adult male snow buntings in breeding plumage have white underparts, neck and head with occasional black marks on the crown. They have black upperparts with brown mottling and white rump with black mottling. Their tails are black and white, and the upperwing is white with a black alula. They have short, pointed bills, dark brown eyes, and dark brown legs and feet.
Out of breeding plumage males have rust tinges on the white areas, particularly on the head, crown and breast. The black feathers on their back are edged with brown, and their bills are yellow with a black tip.
Adult female snow buntings are smaller than males, and in breeding plumage the crown, nape, and hindneck are darker. Their upperparts are mostly brown and there are fewer white areas. In non-breeding plumage females are similar to males.
Juvenile snow buntings have olive-grey upperparts streaked with dark grey. Their underparts are white with a pink or grey wash. They have a grey head and breast with a pale throat, and their bills are yellow.
Snow buntings breed from late May to September. They build their nests in a protected cavity such as a rock crevice or a hole in the ground. The female builds the nest which is a cup-shaped structure made from grass and moss and lined with finer plant material, down, feathers, and fur.
Snow buntings lay 2-8 pale blue-green eggs with brown spots which are incubated by the female alone for 12-14 days while she is fed by the male. Chicks are fed by both parents and fledge 10-17 days after hatching.
Snow buntings eat seeds, buds, and insects. In coastal areas they will also eat crustaceans. Chicks are fed insects and spiders.
Where to see them
Snow buntings arrive for the winter in September and leave by March. They can be found on coastal areas in Scotland and eastern England.
Rob van Bemmelen/xeno-canto
Did you know?
During the last Ice Age snow buntings were common throughout continental Europe.