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Last updated on April 20, 2014 at 8:28 EDT

Snow Bunting

The Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) is a passerine bird in the bunting family Emberizidae. Most modern authors now separate this family from the finches (Fringillidae).

The snow bunting is an arctic specialist and it has a circumpolar arctic breeding range throughout the northern hemisphere. There is a small isolated population on the high mountaintops of Scotland. The breeding habitat is treeless moors, tundra and bare mountains.

It is migratory, wintering in northern temperate areas. In winter, it forms mobile flocks, usually on coasts. It shows little fear of humans.

Its large white wing patches easily identify this species while in flight. The breeding male is unmistakable, with all white plumage and a black back. Other plumages are pale ginger above and white below. 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.

The call is a distinctive rippling whistle.

Snow Bunting