Wild Profile: meet the snow bunting

Published: December 11, 2018

By Mircea Costina/Shutterstock

Can you handle the chill? These tough, fluffy, sparrow-sized birds sure can. Snow buntings breed in the Arctic tundra—farther north than any other land-based bird—and make their nests in the crevices and fissures of cold rock. But they scatter south across Canada and the U.S. in the winter. This makes the cold season the best time to spot the birds.

Unlike many birds, buntings don’t need to carb load throughout the winter to stay warm. They’re equipped for the cold with a layer of insulating down under a layer of extra-long feathers. To stay cozy on nights dipping to -30°C or -35°C, they’ll burrow into the snow. It’s only at migration time that these birds pack on the pounds. Males can increase their weigh by 30 per cent in a little over a week.

Snow buntings are sometimes called snowflakes—when flocks swirl through the air, it looks a little like a blizzard. But buntings spend most of their time on the ground, constantly in motion as they forage for seeds: hopping, running, and scooting around, pausing briefly to rest and preen every so often.

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