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Snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)

Snow bunting

Snow bun­ting. End of May, Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Descrip­ti­on: Snow bun­tings (length 16-17 cm, weight 25-40 g) are smal­ler than Black­birds and have a con­trast-rich plu­mage with white bel­ly, pale head and brow­nish-spot­ted wings and backs. The male has a com­ple­te­ly white head, is lar­ge­ly black and white and thus more con­trast-rich than the fema­le. Snow bun­tings are not only the most colourful birds of their small size in Spits­ber­gen, but also the only sin­ging bird in the high Arc­tic.

Snow bunting, Adventdalen

Snow bun­ting. Ear­ly July, Advent­da­len.

Dis­tri­bu­ti­on / Migra­ti­ons: The Snow bun­ting has a cir­cum­po­lar dis­tri­bu­ti­on in the Arc­tic and spends the win­ter in tem­pe­ra­te lati­tu­des. In Sval­bard, it can be seen ever­y­whe­re from late March or April to late August or even Sep­tem­ber. The­se birds migra­te to the White Sea area in nor­t­hern Rus­sia or to the step­pe north of the Cas­pian Sea or Kazakh­stan.

Bio­lo­gy: Snow bun­tings feed on seeds and, to a les­ser ext­ent, insects. They are not too par­ti­cu­lar with regards to their bree­ding habi­tat, as long as the nea­rest neigh­bour is not too clo­se. Nests may be any­whe­re, in lush tun­dra are­as, near lar­ge sea­bird colo­nies or on thin­ly vege­ta­ted moun­tain slo­pes near the coast or far inland.

Snow buntings, Alkhornet

Pair of Snow bun­tings. Male to the left, fema­le to the right. End of May, Alhor­net.

The small, well iso­la­ted nest is usual­ly well hid­den. Upon arri­val, they may build a small cave in the snow for tem­po­ra­ry pro­tec­tion from seve­re wea­ther. Short­ly after arri­val in the bree­ding are­as, the male will estab­lish a ter­ri­to­ry and attract a fema­le with its beau­tiful voice. The fema­le will lay four to seven eggs in late May or ear­ly June and sit for 12 to 14 days. The male does not take part in this, but assists while the chick needs food for 12 to 14 days after hat­ching.

Snow bunting, Longyearbyen

Snow bun­ting. Lon­gye­ar­by­en.

Mis­cel­la­neous: The exact size of the bree­ding popu­la­ti­on in Sval­bard is not known, but it will be varia­ble around seve­ral thousand bree­ding pairs. The­re is no evi­dence for a long-term increase or decrease of the regio­nal popu­la­ti­on. Snow bun­tings are a com­mon sight. Their melo­dic voice is a wel­co­me sound in the tun­dra, announ­cing the end of the win­ter.

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last modification: 2019-02-27 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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