Snow BuntingPlectrophenax nivalis

adult male, breeding
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult female, breeding
Laure W. Neish/VIREO
immature female (1st winter)
Rob Curtis/VIREO
adult male, nonbreeding
Garth McElroy/VIREO
Snow Bunting


6-7 1/4" (15-18 cm). Sparrow-sized. Breeding male has black back with much white on head, underparts, wings, and tail. Female similar, but duller. Winter birds have brown on crown and upperparts, have duller underparts, but still show much white in wings.


Clear whistle or soft buzzy note. Song a sweet warble.


winter flock calls #2
songs #1
harsh scold
subsong in winter flock
songs #2
winter flock calls #1


Arctic tundra. Winters on windswept grasslands and beaches.


Breeds from Aleutians, northern Alaska and Arctic islands south to northern Quebec. Winters regularly across southern Canada and upper tier of states to Oregon and Pennsylvania. Also in Eurasia.


This circumpolar bird, often called the "Snowflake," breeds further north than almost any other land bird. In severe winters large flocks descend to our northern states, where they favor the most barren places. They occasionally can be found at beach parking lots in the dead of winter searching for weed seeds.


4-6 white eggs, with red-brown spots in ring around the larger end, placed in a cup of grass lined with fur and feathers and concealed among rocks or in tundra vegetation.

Similar Species

adult, breeding

White Wagtail

7" (18 cm). A slim, small-bodied bird with a long slender tail that wags constantly and is half its total length.

adult male, breeding

McCown's Longspur

5 3/4-6" (15 cm). Sparrow-sized. Breeding male streaked above, with black crown, whitish face, and black "mustache"; gray below with bold black band across breast.

adult male

McKay's Bunting

7" (18 cm). Similar to, but whiter than, the widespread Snow Bunting. Breeding male snow white, except for dark bill, black tips of primaries, and tips of central tail feathers.


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