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Snow Buntings Headed Back to the Arctic

2-27-14 snow buntings2 091Whirling flocks of Snow Buntings have been observed more frequently lately, perhaps because male buntings have begun their migration back to their nesting grounds on the tundra. They are the first migrants to arrive in the Arctic in the spring (in early April), when it can be -20°F. Females arrive four to six weeks later, when days are warming and snow is beginning to melt. It is thought that the males’ early return is related to the fact that, unlike most Arctic songbirds, buntings nest in rock cavities, for which there is great competition. Deep inside narrow cracks, nesting buntings can largely avoid nest predation, but their eggs are susceptible to freezing and require longer incubation than eggs laid in the open. As a result, females remain on the nest throughout much of the incubation period and are fed by the males. This arrangement shortens incubation time and provides the eggs with constant protection from freezing temperatures. (Thanks to Liz and Clemens Steinrisser for photo op.)

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5 responses

  1. I’ve been thinking about this, the return trip north, wondering how much time I have left, if any, to continue photographing snowy owls and snow buntings in CNY. Good post. Thanks!

    February 27, 2014 at 1:36 pm

  2. Kathie Fiveash

    How far south do snow buntings go in the winter?

    February 27, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    • Hi Kathie,
      For the most part, New Jersey and northern Virginia are the southernmost they venture, though they’ve been seen south of that sporadically.

      February 27, 2014 at 10:42 pm

  3. Hah!!! I saw a flock of these birds today in North Haverhill!

    February 27, 2014 at 10:27 pm

  4. What a beautiful bird! Great photos!

    February 28, 2014 at 1:41 am

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