Bird Database

Snow Bunting

(Plectrophenax nivalis)

State of the Birds
At a Glance



Short distance




Climate change, Pesticides

Conservation Actions

More data are needed on population trends and magnitudes of threats

Snow Bunting

(Plectrophenax nivalis)

One colloquial name for the Snow Bunting is “snowflake,” as suitable a moniker as any to describe the swirling flocks of whitish birds we see only in the winter months. This is truly a bird adapted to the cold. It breeds farther north than any other songbird, with records from the Canada’s islands in the Arctic Ocean within 500 miles of the North Pole. Males even arrive in these inhospitable climes well before the snow is gone, sometimes braving temperatures of -20 degrees, and well before females show up a month or more later. They do this because they nest in rock crevices and securing a good site can make all the difference in successfully rearing a brook of baby buntings. Even during the relatively balmy days of June, males feed incubating females on their nests so they don’t risk chilling the eggs by leaving to forage.

After their brief breeding season in June and July, snow Buntings linger another month on the tundra to molt, and then begin heading south in September. They typically don’t arrive in New Hampshire until November and are already heading north again in March. While here they are most frequently encountered in large open areas, mainly in the major river valleys and along the coast. Typical habitats include cornfields, grassy parking lots, and airfields – anywhere there’s an abundance of small seeds for them to eat. They are often joined in mixed flocks with other open field birds like larks and pipits.

Because of their remote breeding range, there are few long-term data on breeding population trends for this species. Even winter data can be challenging due to their highly dispersed habitat and flocking behavior. Christmas Bird Count (CBC) analyses suggest declines in the core winter range, but these come with caveats that it can be hard to separate actual declines from shifts in range. If Snow Buntings are starting to winter farther north, they will be less frequently detected where most CBCs occur, and thus create the impression of a decline where none exists. Nonetheless, given rapidly changing conditions in the arctic because of climate change, Snow Bunting is definitely a species to watch.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Snow Bunting
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count