Rick gets pretty excited whenever anyone mentions Snow Buntings, so I thought I would make a post about one I saw the other day. Just before dusk a few days ago, on one of those really cold days with -30 windchill, a Snow Bunting showed up at my feeder. Snow Buntings aren’t a particularly common feeder visitor, but they do seem to occasionally visit feeders when the weather is harsh. We have a fair bit of snow in Hamilton this year so perhaps the deep-ish snowpack combined with the cold weather were enough to send him looking for some fast food. My house is in Copetown, and I’m surrounded by agricultural fields, so it probably wasn’t a very long trip to get to my feeder for this guy. He even stood by patiently while I walked outside and took a picture of him.
Snow Buntings are migratory birds that spend their breeding season in the High Arctic. They winter in the prairie and eastern agricultural regions of North America, generally feeding on plants that poke up through the snow. Male Snow Buntings will head back to the Arctic in April, when the temperature can still be -30 or lower. Snow Buntings nest in rock cavities on the the ground, and the males arrive back to the Arctic early to stake out claims to the best territories they can get. Apparently the competition is intense. The females arrive 4-6 weeks later, once the weather is a bit more agreeable. The rocks that the Buntings breed on can provide a harsh microclimate for incubation, so the female tends to remain on the nest almost constantly and the male provides her with food. Snow Buntings begin leaving the Arctic in mid- to late-September, and begin arriving back on their wintering ground by mid- to late-October.
(Information paraphrased from Birds of North America Online).
What a nice photo! I’ve seen several small flocks already this year but never this close up! I’m feeding plenty of pine siskins and redpolls at my feeders.
Snow Bunting numbers have plummeted in the last 40 years. Based on Christmas Bird Count data, the National Audubon Society estimates a drop of 64% during this time period. Unfortunately, they have attributed this to global warming – the movement north of vegetation and predators/competitors impacting on their nesting success. This is hogwash! The decline is almost certainly due to the radical changes in farming practices during this time. The large-scale use of herbicides and “Round-up ready” crops (like soy beans and corn) has left millions of acres devoid of any weed seeds that the birds can feed on in the winter. Take a drive around any agricultural area in Canada or the northern States in the winter and you will see mile after mile of empty fields, snow-covered with no emergent weeds. I don’t want to sound like a “conspiracy theorist” but…..is the Audubon Society afraid to incur the wrath of the agro-chemical industry and tell it like it is? There are major scholarly papers in Europe documenting the precipitous decline of songbirds there due to changes in farming practices. Why don’t we see those same papers here!?
I have only ever seen photo’s of snow buntings in books and absolutely love them. I kepp hoping one will visit my feeders but alas they have not. I have heard the odd report of them in around the Ottawa area though. Great photo and information.