Congratulations to Kathie Fiveash, the first NC reader to correctly identify the tracks and feeding sign in the latest Mystery Photo as those of Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis). These birds began arriving in the northern half of the United States from their summer home on the northern tundra last fall and will remain here until March, when they begin migrating back to their breeding grounds.
In the winter, 97% of a Snow Bunting’s diet is weed seeds, including those of knotweed, ragweed, amaranth, aster, goldenrod, grasses and grains. These birds forage on the ground, collecting seeds from the protruding stems of tall weeds, occasionally reaching or leaping up to take seeds from taller stems, jumping against stems to scatter seeds or bending stems over by stepping on them. (Birds of the World, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology)
While foraging, Snow Bunting flocks are constantly restless, frequently flushing rapidly and low over the ground for short distances. A flurry of birds, much like snowflakes, fills the air nearest the ground for a few seconds while they relocate to a new area. Birds at the back of the flock fly forward to the front, creating the impression that the flock is rolling along.
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