About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Bird of the Week: Snowflake Birds

Hello, I have a question that is driving me nuts. I live in the Thumb of Michigan and see birds in flocks usually around grain fields that are entirely white when there is snow. However, once the snow starts to melt, they start to change color back to a darker color. If it snows again enough to cover the ground, they turn back to entirely white. What in the heck kind of bird is this? Thank you in advance for your help!!

Snow Bunting in fall plumage from Wikimedia Commons
They are probably snow buntings also known as snowflake birds. In winter they come down to feed in Michigan’s fields and pastures. They usually appear with the first flakes of snow, the males chanting a very low and somewhat broken, but very pleasant song. Then just as snow begins to melt, they head to their Arctic breeding grounds. Snow buntings breed farther north than any other known songbird.

They are about the size of sparrows.  In the fall, males grow new coat of feathers that are white with light brown wings and their head gets ginger patches on the cheeks and a ginger cap.

Snow Bunting in Spring colors from Wikimedia Commons
Winter males and females look similar. The bill is short and yellow with a black tip. Another fun fact about this species is unlike most passerines, they have feathers on their lower leg. It is an adaptation to deal with the cold climates.

Although breeding and nonbreeding males look quite different, the Snow Bunting has only one molt in the fall. In the spring, the male wears off all of the brownish feather tips by actively rubbing them on snow, until he is immaculate white and jet black by the time breeding begins.

A range map can be found at: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Snow_Bunting/id

Related Article:
- Do We Have Indigo Buntings in Michigan? http://t.co/tUlMhMW
- Types of Bird feathers http://bit.ly/J8aZMh
- Most common winter birds in Michigan http://bit.ly/ywWdfL
- Birds of Michigan Field Guide http://bit.ly/pXv5ZN
- How to Prepare Your Yard for Winter Birdwatching http://bit.ly/q93Men 
- Why birds molt http://bit.ly/rGaqRL

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