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Snow Buntings Starting To Head North

2-24-17-snow-buntings-on-ground-img_6743Flocks 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. (Photo:  can you find the lone Lapland Longspur?)

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12 responses

  1. Marilyn

    (Longspur: “Everyone is out of step but me!”)

    February 24, 2017 at 7:32 am

  2. On a canoe trip during one particularly nasty July, we found dead Lapland longspurs all over the tundra. Frozen or starved, we couldn’t tell.

    February 24, 2017 at 8:05 am

  3. ianmanning4

    Little horned lark hiding in there too.

    On 24 February 2017 at 08:23, Naturally Curious with Mary Holland wrote:

    > Mary Holland posted: “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), w” >

    February 24, 2017 at 8:08 am

    • Right you are! I completely missed it!

      February 24, 2017 at 8:21 am

  4. Kathy Schillemat

    Just observed a flock in Marlborough, NH on Monday, February 20. We looked up at just the right time to see them circle around over a field, then they were gone over the hill. I don’t know my other birds, but are the interlopers the one in the front of the photo, with such different coloring and the other facing in a different direction from the rest of the birds on the right side of the photo?

    February 24, 2017 at 9:01 am

    • Yes, you’re 100% right! The Lapland Longspur is center, front and the Horned Lark is on the right, facing the opposite way from the buntings.

      February 24, 2017 at 9:29 am

  5. Libby Hillhouse

    Just curious if we know who makes up the flocks we see over the winter – are they mixed gender flocks who separate when the males begin their migration?

    February 24, 2017 at 9:46 am

    • Libby, to my knowledge, male and female snow buntings, in the fall and winter, have the same plumage (pictured) so it’s hard to determine what a flock is composed of, gender-wise.

      March 2, 2017 at 12:14 pm

      • Libby Hillhouse

        Yes, maybe an arcane question, unanswerable, but the the birds certainly know!

        March 2, 2017 at 12:16 pm

  6. Kelly

    That was fun, like a naturalist’s “Where’s Waldo?” Please do more like this in the future.

    February 24, 2017 at 9:50 am

  7. Judy Ratte

    THANK YOU. IMAGINE GOING HOME TO -20. DARLING BIRDS. I WOULD LIKE THEM TO COME ATO OUR HOUSES. X’S JUDY

    from Judy Ratté

    >

    February 24, 2017 at 9:52 am

  8. Carol C Wagner

    Snow buntings have been present occasionally on North Williston fields since last month. I sent details of a sighting of perhaps 200 (or more?) the last Sunday in January to Erin Talmadge at BOVM, but cannot now recover text of message. Thank you for the biological info, which I was unaware of.

    February 26, 2017 at 11:50 am

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