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Snow Bunting

A small passerine bird species that breeds in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of North America and Eurasia. It is known for its striking white plumage, with black wingtips and a black tail, and its distinctive melodious song.

Nesting in the arctic and wintering across a broad area of southern Canada and the northern U.S., the Snow Bunting migrates twice each year. Males arrive on the breeding grounds very early in the spring to stake out the best nest sites, for which there is much competition. The nests of Snow Buntings are very thick and often contain feather and fur, probably to provide insulation from the cold arctic air.

Although they are territorial on their breeding grounds, Snow Buntings often occur in large flocks during migration and in the winter, when they can sometimes be seen with flocks of longspurs. During fall migration and winter, female Snow Buntings tend to move farther south than males.

Length: 7 inches
Wing span: 14 inches


Description of the Snow Bunting


The Snow Bunting is slightly larger than a Horned Lark, and shows large white wing patches in flight.

Males in the breeding season have white heads and underparts with a black back, and black bills.

Snow Bunting

Photograph © Alan Wilson


Females in the breeding season have white underparts, blackish-backs mottled with white, dusky coloration on the head, and black bills.

Seasonal change in appearance

Winter males have russet brown on the head, back, wings, and breast.  Winter females resemble winter males. Both have yellow-orange bills.

Snow Bunting

Photograph © Glenn Bartley


Juveniles are sooty-grayish above with somewhat dusky orange bills.


Snow Buntings breed in tundra, and in winter can be found in fields and shorelines.


Snow Buntings primarily eat seeds and insects, but also some buds and leaves.


Snow Buntings forage on the ground, and are often in flocks, sometimes with longspurs.

Snow Bunting



Snow Buntings breed in arctic Canada and Alaska, and winter south to the central U.S.  The remote breeding habitats of the Snow Bunting make the population difficult to monitor.

Fun Facts

Snow Buntings live in harsh conditions of the high Arctic, only coming south during the winter.

Males arrive on the breeding grounds weeks before females in order to establish high quality territories.

The male Snow Bunting feeds his mate while she incubates the eggs, helping ensure that the eggs will hatch despite the cold arctic conditions.


The song is a repetitive warble, and the call is a rattle.

Similar Species

  • McKay’s Buntings have whiter upperparts.


The nest is a cup of moss and grass lined with feathers and placed in a protected crevice.

Number: Usually lay 4-7 eggs.
Color: Whitish with darker markings.

Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 10-16 days, and leave the nest in another 10-17 days, though continuing to associate with the adults for some time

About the Author

Sam Crowe

Sam is the founder of He has been birding for over 30 years and has a world list of over 2000 species. He has served as treasurer of the Texas Ornithological Society, Sanctuary Chair of Dallas Audubon, Editor of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's "All About Birds" web site and as a contributing editor for Birding Business magazine. Many of his photographs and videos can be found on the site.

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