Photo: Paul Bannick/Vireo

McKay's Bunting

Plectrophenax hyperboreus

Few birders ever get to see this whitest of North American songbirds on its main nesting grounds, remote St. Matthew and Hall Islands in the Bering Sea. During many summers, however, a few McKay's Buntings appear on St. Lawrence Island or the Pribilofs, sites more easily visited. On those islands the bird may interbreed with the local Snow Buntings, as the two species apparently are very closely related.
Conservation status Total population is no more than a few thousand. Could be seriously threatened if rats or other predators were introduced to its nesting islands.
Family Longspurs and Snow Buntings
Habitat Tundra, barrens, shores. Probably breeds in most available habitats in its very limited range, including open tundra with numerous rocky outcrops, stony beaches, and rocky scree slopes with little vegetation. Winters mostly on coastal beaches and low tundra near the shore.
Few birders ever get to see this whitest of North American songbirds on its main nesting grounds, remote St. Matthew and Hall Islands in the Bering Sea. During many summers, however, a few McKay's Buntings appear on St. Lawrence Island or the Pribilofs, sites more easily visited. On those islands the bird may interbreed with the local Snow Buntings, as the two species apparently are very closely related.
Photo Gallery
Feeding Behavior

Forages while walking and running on the ground, picking up items from the ground or from plants. Except when nesting, usually forages in flocks.


Eggs

Probably about 5. Pale green, dotted with pale brown. Incubation poorly known; probably similar to Snow Bunting, but it is possible that male may help incubate. Young: Probably fed by both parents, and probably leave nest about 10-17 days after hatching, as in the Snow Bunting.


Young

Probably fed by both parents, and probably leave nest about 10-17 days after hatching, as in the Snow Bunting.

Diet

Probably mostly insects and seeds. Diet is not known in detail, but undoubtedly feeds on many insects (and some spiders) in summer, mainly or entirely on seeds in winter. Along shorelines, may also eat tiny crustaceans or other marine life.


Nesting

Nesting behavior is not well known, but probably similar to that of Snow Bunting. In display on breeding grounds, may sing while flying in a wide circle. Nest site is usually in some protected cavity, such as a deep crevice in cliff, among or underneath rocks, or inside hollowed-out pieces of driftwood; these secure sites may be chosen for protection from Arctic foxes. Nest is a shallow cup of grass, lined with finer grasses.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Winter status on the islands where it breeds is poorly known; most may migrate to west coast of Alaska in fall. Only a casual to accidental stray farther south.

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Migration

Winter status on the islands where it breeds is poorly known; most may migrate to west coast of Alaska in fall. Only a casual to accidental stray farther south.

Songs and Calls
A loud warbling song reminiscent of that of the goldfinch. Call is a musical rattle.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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