April 20th – Cross-country (Snow Bunting) Check-up


[Editor: For us, in far southern Ontario, the Snow Bunting banding season is just a memory. And not a very good one as mild temperatures and a lack of snow greatly reduced the number of birds in our area. Reading below you will see that this was a common theme in many parts of the country: Winnipeg area, southern Quebec, New Brunswick. But for others it was a banner year: Julie Bauer in the Yukon had a great season (that just finished) and (thanks to Darroch Whittaker in Newfoundland) I just found out about the celebration of the return of northward-migrating buntings by enthusiasts in Labrador – what a wonderful thing to celebrate! And it’s going on now. (see his post below) Thanks to everyone that sent me updates.]

Yukon/Northwest Territories/Nunavut

[April 15th]
This is our 6th year banding snow buntings on their spring migration in the Yukon. We are having a very busy season having banded 1909 birds as of today.!

We did no banding in 2019 as all the snow was gone mid-March and a very warm spring. This winter was a high snow year and we still have lots around. Started to band March 22 which is the usual time but by now we usually have few buntings around. The numbers are still around and we banded over 200 today.

As far as I know I am the only Western SNBU bander and the most northern as well. Are there any new banders out west?? [Ed. Not that i know of.]

We had one recapture of a bird in 2019 in Barrow Alaska, a researcher (NSF project for Dr. Noah Ashley, a professor at Western Kentucky University. From 2015 through 2019 we banded probably ~100-150 SNBU a year, mostly as nestlings, but also adults in Barrow/Utqiagvik, Alaska)
Another bird of ours was pulled out of a truck grill in British Columbia.

2014 banded 32 birds
2015 136
2016 239 Recap 1 from 2015
2017 1173 Recaps :1 from 2016, 1 from 2015
2018 1643 Recaps: 5 from 2017, 1 from 2016, 1 from 2015 (only female of all previous yr recaps)

This is a quick note to touch base and let you know about our project.
Julie Bauer
Haines Junction, Yukon

[April 20th]
Hello Rick ,yes we live in the small community of Haines Junction. The Yukon has a small population of 36,000 people. At present only 9 positive cases of Covid-19. Pretty much everything is locked down. My husband Terry and I operated the sites only this year and it would have been a great year to get help. Because of social distancing we could not ask people to participate so really missed the kids and family involvement.

As I mentioned we started to band on March 22 and our last day was April 15. This is the longest season we have ever had. On April 14 we had 180 birds at one site and the next day only 45 and then nothing. Once the weather warmed the birds were gone. We had buntings hanging around for a minimum of 2 weeks after initial banding because of the snow pack. Our final total was: 2339 and 799 recaptures. Of those recaptures 14 were from previous years (4 from 2017 and 10 from 2018). Only one female captured from 2018, rest all males.

We are very happy with our season considering we operate during the spring migration.

Our percentages of males to females was similar to previous years 84% to 16%.

Do you know of any additional snow bunting banders in the west?
Take care and keep well.
Smiles Julie

Prairie Provinces:

[April 18th]
Hi Rick,

I’m afraid I’ve got nothing for you. Numbers have been declining the last few winters and this year, for the first time in 20+ years, I had none. December 23rd I had 17 spend a few minutes at the bait field, and on January 16th I had 11 perch for a minute between the field and the yard. That’s it. In neither case did they stop to feed, so they weren’t starving. I’m hoping this only means they found better pickings elsewhere and the population itself is doing okay.

For what its worth, I finally got all my surviving journals (1996-2020), many with daily counts and comments, entered into eBird. Marker is labelled “homesite eBird” and location is 50.7134597 -97.0530935.

Still following and enjoying the blog.

All the best,
Bill Maciejko
2 1/2 miles west of Camp Morton, MB


What a great school! A bunch of little Flockers! Complete with Snow Buntings. -JG

[April 19th]
Hi Rick,
Unfortunately, the School of Flockers [Kerns Public School] were just starting to roll when school was closed due to Covid-19. That along with Teacher Union disruptions, taking the time to really concentrate on SNBU banding was difficult. Too bad for this year’s class. That being said, we did capture a few birdies. 65 SNBU in total, 2 of which were female. The ages of our birds were 83% after-second year. Murph [Bruce Murphy] had lots of success at our Hilliardton [Marsh] Site. I will let him give you the details. Also I have a bright orange SOF toque for you 🙂 Can you give me your address again? [Ed.: Certainly!!]
Joanne Goddard
Oh, I forgot to mention, we also had 5 recaptured Kerns’ birds from previous years, AND I think Murph captured a few of Kerns birdies too. But no foreign retraps.
Kerns Public School
New Liskeard, ON

Joanne Goddard (right) is turning out the bird enthusiasts of the future in Northern Ontario. -JG

[April 19th]
HI Rick
We had a pretty decent year for buntings up here, banding from our new home smack in the middle of amazing SNBU habitat surrounded by farm fields. I ended up with 787 buntings: 619 were ASY [After Second Year; i.e., “older”] and 176 SY [Second Year; i.e., “younger” – only in their 2nd year]. We only managed to band 21 females giving us a total of 766 males. We did not band any longspurs or horned lark which is not a surprise for us. Our number peaked in late march and and unfortunately as flock size grew our snow disappeared; and there were massive flocks in early April which we could not take advantage of. I even saw a small flock today as i was out banding roughlegged hawks. I know we live in banding paradise.

The big news for us is that we had 13 birds show up that we banded, returned after being banded last year; 2 of which were banded at Kerns by Joanne and her School of Flock students. We are about 15 km away from the Kerns site. In addition we were excited to capture 2 birds banded by David Lamble near Guelph Ontario; 1 was banded January 17 2018 and the other was banded January 28th 2019. I think we should be thinking of putting some motus/nano tags on snbu up here and hope to talk someone into that before next season. All the best. Looking forward to seeing how people did around the country and beyond. Stay safe
Bruce Murphy
Hilliardton Marsh

Barren expanses of snow – prime Snow Bunting habitat. -JG

[April 18th]
Hi all,
My Snow Buntings showed up early January and left early March. I only had about 40 of them, the lowest number ever. I’m enclosing a few pictures.
Be well and stay safe.
Lise Balthazar
Sheridan Rapids
PS: We had a fair amount of snow, but the Buntings showed up later than usual and in very small numbers. It worries me.

Getting into the seed. -LB

Male Snow Bunting. -LB


[April 19th]
Hi Rick,

We’ve posted several updates throughout the winter on McGill Bird Observatory’s facebook page and these updates got cross-posted to the CSBN facebook page as well. The only other bander I know who’s been banding SNBU this winter is Nicolas Bernier, he’s copied on this email.

For southern Quebec it was a very mild winter and there weren’t a lot of birds around. Mirabel, our longest-running site finished with only 89 Snow Buntings banded. Coteau-du-lac did very well with 751 Snow Buntings, 8 Lapland Longspurs, 6 Horned Larks and 6 Song Sparrows. Sherrington which was our best site last year was slower this year; they finished with 453 Snow Buntings banded, 1 Lapland Longspur and 1 SNBU recap from Arthur, ON (December 2017). Our St-Roch site was back on track with a new bander this winter and he did 416 Snow Buntings and 2 Lapland Longspurs.

Our cumulative total is 1709 Snow Buntings banded.
I’ll be curious to read your update, I feel like there aren’t a lot of sites active. Is the effort still worth it?

Simon Duvall
Montreal, QC

[April 15th]
They’ve arrived!
Allen Gordon
Kuujjuaq, QC [Ed.: a little below the southern end of Ungava Bay]

Striking male Snow Bunting shortly after arrival in Kuujjuaq. -AG

Maritime Provinces

[April 19th]
Hi Rick, this is Dorothy Diamond from Stanley, NB. I have seen only 1 SNBU along my road about a month ago, and I did not see any at the farm I was banding birds at in the past. We had a milder winter this year with a bit less snow. Also, our travels have been curtailed in the past 5 weeks, so we have not been looking for them much. On the fields here, some weedy plants were seen above the snow, but no SNBU.
Dorothy Diamond
Stanley, NB

[April 19th]
Snow Buntings are few and far between in Cape Breton in the winter. They are regular but uncommon, usually found on grassy beaches or occasionally in a field. I haven’t seen any this year but have seen reports of them in their regular haunts.

Jeff MacLeod
Sydney, NS

[April 19th]
Hi Rick,
We only really see large numbers of buntings in NL during spring migration. I’ve been hearing regular reports from the Gros Morne area over the past few weeks so I get the sense it’s been a decent year here. However due to COVID-19 I haven’t been out trying to band any so nothing to report there.

Also of interest, piles of buntings migrate through Labrador each spring and this is a real highlight for people living there. As a result some local enthusiasts have started a snow bunting facebook group where people report their sightings. I strongly recommend checking out the “Snow Bunting Project – 2020” page to see their reports. As you’ll see from the second screenshots they’ve had reports of more than 20,000 buntings over the past couple weeks. [Ed. Wow! That’s a pretty amazing number. Also, I was excited about the pictures of birds sporting bands – many of them likely banded by members of this forum.]

Darroch Whitaker
Rocky Harbour, Newfoundland

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