At a Glance

They sometimes have been called 'Snowflakes,' and flocks of Snow Buntings may seem like snowflakes as they swirl through the air and then settle on winter fields. South of the Arctic these are strictly winter birds, arriving in late fall, generally departing at the first signs of spring. In summer they retire to barren northern tundra, with some breeding on the northernmost islands of Canada and the mountains of Greenland. In some high Arctic communities, Snow Buntings nest in birdhouses put out for them.
New World Sparrows, Perching Birds
Low Concern
Coasts and Shorelines, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Saltwater Wetlands, Tundra and Boreal Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Western Canada
Direct Flight, Flitter, Running

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Migrates mostly late in fall and early in spring. Strays south of main winter range may be most likely to appear in November.


6-7 1/4" (15-18 cm). In winter, pale brown and white, with big white wing patches, black in tail and wingtips. Summer male clean black and white, female duller and grayer. Beware confusion with partial albinos of other species.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, Tan, White
Wing Shape
Tail Shape
Notched, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

Clear whistle or soft buzzy note. Song a sweet warble.
Call Pattern
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Whistle


Prairies, fields, dunes, shores. In summer, tundra. Breeds on northern tundra, mainly in areas with rocky outcrops, boulder fields, cliffs, or rocky beaches, generally avoiding unbroken wet tundra. Winters in various kinds of open country, including shortgrass prairie, farmland, beaches, lake shores.



4-7, sometimes 2-9. Whitish to pale blue-green, marked with brown and black. Incubation is by female, 10-16 days. In some parts of range, male feeds female on nest throughout incubation period, allowing her to spend more time on eggs -- important in cold northern climate.


Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 10-17 days after hatching. 1 brood per year.

Feeding Behavior

Forages while walking and running on the ground. Except when nesting, usually forages in flocks.


Mostly seeds and insects. Seeds of grasses, weeds, and sedges make up a major part of diet at most seasons, especially in winter; may also consume buds and leaves in spring. Also eats many insects in summer, including crane flies, other flies, beetles, caterpillars, true bugs, and others, plus some spiders. Young are fed mostly on insects. In coastal areas, may eat tiny crustaceans and other marine life.


Males arrive on breeding grounds 3-6 weeks before females, to stake out territories containing suitable nest sites. In territorial and courtship display, male flies up 20-30', then glides down while singing. In courtship on ground, male spreads wings and tail, turns his back to female to show off contrasting pattern, and makes short runs away from her. Nest site is in some protected cavity, as in a deep fissure among rocks; sometimes under manmade debris or in hole in ground. Nest (built by female) is a bulky cup of grass and moss, lined with fine grass, rootlets, plant down, and especially with feathers or hair.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Common and widespread, numbers probably stable. Most of breeding range is remote from effects of human activity.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Snow Bunting. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Snow Bunting

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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