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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.


By the way:

New book

my new book is in print and it can now be orde­red 🙂 it is a pho­to book with the tit­le “Nor­we­gens ark­ti­scher Nor­den (3): Die Bären­in­sel und Jan May­en”, with Ger­man text Click here for fur­ther details!


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