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Forest and Rangeland Birds of the United States

Natural History and Habitat Use

Snow Bunting -- Plectrophenax nivalis


RANGE: Breeds in Arctic tundra from northern Alaska to Prince Patrick and northern Ellesmere islands, south to extreme northwestern British Columbia, east-central Mackenzie, central and southeastern Keewatin, and northern Labrador. Winters from west-central and southern Alaska and southern Canada south to California, Colorado, Missouri, and North Carolina, casually farther south.

STATUS: Common.

HABITAT: Breeds in rough, rocky Arctic tundra with scattered vegetation. Prefers stony beaches, rocky escarpments, and cliffs, occurring less commonly in grassy tundra. In winter, inhabits open country, along lake shores, beaches, and roadsides, and grassy, weedy, or stubble fields.

SPECIAL HABITAT REQUIREMENTS: Rocky areas with sparse vegetation.

NEST: Nearly always places nest in a hole or cranny, in a variety of natural and artificial sites, often a foot or more back in narrow rock crevices under loose rocks on the ground. May place nest in a depression or in cracks in the ground if other sites are lacking but rarely exposed on open ground.

FOOD: In winter, primarily eats seeds of weeds and grasses gleaned from the tips of plants and the surface of the snow. Adds insects and spiders to the diet during summer.

REFERENCES: DeGraff et al. 1980, Forbush and May 1955, Parmelee in Bent 1968c, Sutton and Parmelee 1954b.


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