February 8th – SNBU Season So Far

Snow and cold have brought Snow Buntings into southern Ontario in large numbers. -NC

It was just a matter of time before they found my site. I had been baiting the field at the York Airport for about a month – morning and late afternoon – hoping that the birds would find it. I was confident they would as I have been using the site for several years now and birds return to places where they have been successful at finding food in the past. At first I was looking for Horned Larks as I’ve retrapped a number over the years clearly showing that they “know” where this site is. The important thing about larks finding the site and feeding is that this behaviour will bring in nomadic Snow Buntings – a bird that is able to survive by finding sources of food in wide-open areas and there’s nothing like feeding larks to bring them in. [Interestingly, I’ve retrapped 6 Horned Larks: one was banded in 2017(!), and the other 5 were banded in a 5-day period last Winter, 3 on the same day.]

A small flock of Snow Buntings taking full advantage of this corn spread out for them.-LB

Finally we got the weather we needed to bring in the buntings: cold temperatures and a good snowfall. It all came together toward the end of January – we started seeing and then catching Snow Buntings on January 24th. I’ve banded almost daily since then. In January we banded 350 (for comparison I banded just 22 last January) and so far this February I’ve banded 356. But I’m not the only one. Marnie has established a site at a farm on Irish Line which shows great promise: on one day (with Liam and myself helping) she banded just under 250 buntings!! [My suggestion that she stop working for the month and concentrate on Snow Buntings seems to have fallen on deaf ears.] And Nancy, although her sites were a little slower to get going, have recently been bringing in birds in good numbers. Nancy’s sites are about half way between my site at the York Airport and Marnie’s site on Irish Line and already there’s been an active exchange of retraps between the 3 sites. In some instances, a bird banded say in York will show up at Nancy’s site the very next day…and vice versa.

Although it’s just early February, some of the birds are already showing signs of preparing for the coming breeding season. Male Snow Buntings in breeding plumage are a stunning black and white but during the Winter their plumage is suffused with browns. Interestingly these birds don’t moult these feathers but, instead, lose the brown colour through wear.

This male has started to wear off the dark tips of its head plumage, especially on the right side, but it still has a long way to go. -DOL

Much of the dark feathering has worn off the head of this male – soon it will be all white, the colour of breeding plumage. -DOL

There have been some interesting bird sightings at the Irish Line site: Fox Sparrow, Savannah Sparrows and Liam found 3 tufted Titmice – a bird that is becoming increasingly common in the area. And down at our Farm banding site there are (at least) 3 Sandhill Cranes. I can’t even begin to guess what they’re finding to sustain themselves.

One of the added bonuses at the Irish Line site – Fox Sparrow. -LET

One of 8 Savannah Sparrows braving the Winter at the Irish Line bunting site. -LET

Holding one leg up for warmth, a Sandhill Crane searches carefully for any morsel it can find. This was one of 3 birds foraging at our Farm banding site. -LET


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