January 15th – X-Country (SNBU) Checkup

This feeding flock in Lanark seems to consist entirely of males.   -L. Balthazar

This feeding flock in Lanark seems to consist entirely of males. -L. Balthazar

You have to love the prose of early naturalists. Here’s Thomas Nuttall writing about the arrival of migrating Snow Buntings in December:
“Early in December they make their descent into the Northern States in whirling, roving flocks, either immediately before or soon after an inundating fall of snow. Amidst the drifts, and as they accumulate with the blast, flocks of these illwars fogel, or bad-weather birds, of the Swedes, like the spirits of the storm are to be seen flitting about in restless and hungry troops, at times resting on the wooden fences, though but for an instant, as, like the congenial Tartar hordes of their natal regions, they appear now to have no other object in view but an escape from famine and to carry on a general system of forage while they happen to stay in the vicinity.” [Birds of the United States, 1891]
A "restless" flock.    -L. Balthazar

A “restless” flock. -L. Balthazar

I’m not sure the birds Nancy and I were seeing in December were from the natal regions of the “congenial Tartar hordes” (in fact, it would appear that some of these birds have come from Greenland based on band recoveries), but the flocks are certainly hungry as they descend on the countryside and very restless –their ‘flightiness’ reminds me a great deal of flocks of migrating shorebirds.

One of the reasons for developing the Canadian Snow Bunting Network is to try to understand why this delightful bird’s numbers have dropped by about 64% in the last 40 years (according to the National Audubon Society). This information was in an article in the in-flight magazine that Oliver Love and I chanced upon while flying south from Iqaluit (ironically) after a month of catching and banding both Common Eiders and Snow Buntings. The article attributed this decrease to “global warming”. I’ve given this a lot of thought but am still hard-pressed to see a connection.

Personally I think there’s something else at work and it’s related to another piece of “old” writing, in this case by P.A. Taverner in his Birds of Eastern Canada, 1919:
“Winter visitors in southern Canada, feeding on the weed-tops that project from the snow in open fields and rarely perching in trees. A flock alights in the weed-spotted snow and gradually works across it, the rear of the flock rising up from time to time like a flurry of snow and pitching ahead, the process being repeated until the whole field is covered.”

Industrial farming has done away with fields with projecting weed-tops. When I survey the large area around our trapping area outside the town of Hagersville in southern Ontario, all I see is a vast expanse of snow-covered fields. The only projecting plants are in thin and very occasional hedgerows – which Snow Buntings tend to shy away from. Round-up ready cropping has created huge deserts as far as winter-foraging birds are concerned. This is where I think the problem lies.

Marie-Pier Laplante, a Master’s student at the University of Quebec at Rimouski, has put together another excellent Canadian Snow Bunting Network Report in which you’ll see up-to-date developments (and makes you appreciate that all those hours generating data out in the cold are worthwhile!!).
The report can be viewed here:

Yukon, NWT, Nunavut


Prairie Provinces

January 16, 2017
Good Morning Rick,
Here in NW Alberta it has warmed up and my bait pile that had birds coming to it have taken a leave of absence. I had a couple hundred or so SNBU’s coming to my bait pile last week with -30c temps and this week its currently +2c. I will report back if I have any luck, I’m having hard times catching Snowy Owls this winter too, with all the canola and wheat laying in the fields this year because of an early snowfall in mid-October there are plenty of voles and mice for them to eat. It’s been a hard season to catch any birds.
Mike Blom
Wildfire Ranger II
Peace River Forest Area
Forestry Division
Alberta Agriculture and Forestry

January 14, 2017
We have very few SNBUs in our area this year – once again!

Harold Fisher
Nisbet Banding Station,
Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
53-17-11N, 105-39-15W

January 15, 2017-01-15
[In response to my question: “Historically did SNBU’s winter in the area?”]
Yes, we see them every year in our travels around the countryside. For the most part, they seem to hang out in flocks of 50 to 200 birds, but it seems they are constantly on the move – seldom see them in the same place twice. The country here is so vast and there are so many fields of grain, especially this year where much of the crop remained unharvested, it would be nearly impossible to attract SNBUs to a specific area by baiting them.

…thought at one time that it would be possible to have them return to the site where I was feeding my horses, but they were there for a few days, then have not returned in years!

Harold Fisher
Prince Albert, SA


Kerns Elementary School's 6th School of Flock class - many with Snow Buntings that they're just banded.  -J. Goddard

Kerns Elementary School’s 6th School of Flock class – many with Snow Buntings that they’re just banded. -J. Goddard

January 15, 2017
Hi Rick, A few spread out flocks of SNBU around the area and it has only been in the past couple days that a flock of close to 100 have found the Kern’s site [Kern’s Elementary School]. We have only attempted two days of banding so far and have banded 32 Snbu two of which were female and 1 male Lalo. Hopefully it will pick up from now on. I know my students are looking for a good excuse to skip math class a few days a week!

Pictured here is the 6th School of Flock Class many holding snow buntings. Also Grade 6 student Cameron Aitchison who banded our first snow bunting of the year.

Cameron Aitchison, who banded the first Snow Bunting of the season.   -J. Goddard

Cameron Aitchison, who banded the first Snow Bunting of the season. -J. Goddard

Youthful bander and scribe in the Kerns Buntingmobile.   -J. Goddard.

Youthful bander and scribe in the Kerns Buntingmobile. -J. Goddard.

Joanne Goddard
New Liskeard, ON

January 15, 2017
Hello Rick and Bunting Enthusiasts,
It’s been a season of hungry Snow Buntings thus far, here at the farm – just southeast of North Bay, ON. They began to take feed once we had snow cover, a couple weeks before Christmas. Often I can count 200 at some point during the day – this is nearly double the number from previous seasons. An elderly gentleman had been feeding a flock for many years about 15 miles from here. He recently passed away – perhaps that flock moved to my feed.
We are thoroughly enjoying watching our Snow Bunting visitors – running on the fields, the roofs, the driveway and fluttering down from the sky like snowflakes.
May Snow Buntings be abundant for enthusiasts and banders this year.

Lori Anderson
North Bay (area), ON

A flock of Snow Buntings feeding busily.    -L. Balthazar

A flock of Snow Buntings feeding busily. -L. Balthazar

January 11, 2017
Good day!
I just wanted to send an update and pictures of the Snow Buntings on our property.
The numbers have been gradually increasing and we now have about 200 birds visiting and feeding every day.
I am still hoping you can find someone to come and band some of those birds!!!

Lise Balthazar
Sheridan Rapids
Lanark, Ontario

Always an oddity - Snow Buntings in the treetops.    -L. Balthazar

Always an oddity – Snow Buntings in the treetops. -L. Balthazar

January 12, 2017
Good morning,
It is really cold here this morning and the Buntings are loving it! They have been very active in the last couple of weeks; we have about 150 to 200 individuals.
Marie-Pier sent me a copy of the Snow Bunting Bulletin and I noticed something on the map showing banding stations: there are none between Montreal and Lake Ontario! Our property is located just a little bit South of Ottawa which would make it a perfect location.
At the risk of repeating myself (which I have been doing for several years now ), can we work on finding someone who could come and band some of the birds on our property? Or at least someone who could come and show me how to do it? I am more than willing to learn!
I really do believe that we could get some very valuable information from our Lanark Highlands flock, both from banding birds and from birds which have already been banded.
Let me know your thoughts.

Lise Balthazar
Sheridan Rapids Road
Lanark, Ontario

January 9, 2017
Hello Rick,
I had never seen or even heard of snow buntings before today. I’m obviously not an experienced birder!
Today, though, a huge flock of these birds (100+) came through our property just north of Goderich, Ontario. It took some detective work to figure out that they were snow buntings and that research led me to you and your banding efforts.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any photos, but I wasn’t sure if the sighting report itself would be helpful. If they’re still around tomorrow, I’ll venture out with the camera.

Colin Carmichael
Goderich, ON

January 14, 2017
[In reponse to my question whether they were still around:] Sorry no. It seems they were just passing through. I haven’t seen them since Sunday.

Colin Carmichael
Goderich, ON

January 14, 2017
The lack of snow and warm temperates have caused the birds to disappear. .
….I am hoping Motus will give us an idea of where they go …. only banded around 200 … back to my preponderance of males… perhaps 90%

David Lamble
Fergus, ON

January 14, 2017
Hello Rick
Snow Buntings in King City are not very good at the moment we have banded 200 with one return and a foreign bird the same day . Every time it snows there is a flock of about 80 that come around but then it rains and they go away so we will hope for some more snow and no rain also there is very little snow on the ground at the trapping site.
Foreign Recovery 2641-34112 captured in King City January 1 2017 5LP MPL 108 WING FAT OF 2 WEIGHT 34.4

Regards Glenn (Reed) and Theresa (Mckenzie)
King City, ON

January 15, 2017
We got some warm weather and rain in early January and our birds disappeared. But around January 7th we got 2 cm of snow and the temperature dropped…..and the Snow Buntings returned. We banded 64 on the 8th; 70 on the 9th; and 16 on the10th. And then mild again……

Rick Ludkin & Nancy Furber
Ruthven Park Banding Station
Cayuga, ON



Maritime Provinces

January 14, 2017
Rick, nothing yet on McKay Siding Rd just north of Stewiacke in NS, although my husband saw a small flock of “my little white birds” two weeks ago on the NS shore of the Bay of Fundy west of Maitland.

Barb McLaughlin
Stewiacke, NS

January 14, 2017
Hi Rick and all
Here in south eastern New Brunswick, I have seen only a few birds and none came down on the seeds yet.
I am now teaching ornithology at Université de Moncton and would LOVE to ne able to band with my students so we will try hard to bait a flock in the next weeks
As for photos; I am not sure if you meant of birds THIS year or just photos of SNBU in general ? Cause I have some serious bank of images if you need them for education or for a publication for the network. I’ll be pleased to send you some
Merci beaucoup!

Alain Clavette
Memramcook, NewBrunswick




January 1st – Cross-Country (SNBU) Check-up

Male Snow Bunting.   -N. Furber

Male Snow Bunting. -N. Furber

Snow Bunting season is upon us again!! At our site in far southern Ontario we began to catch and band them in the middle of December – a month earlier than we’ve ever done so before! Does this tell us something about the nature of the coming Winter or….is it just coincidence? We’ll see. Let’s hope it’s a good season for all of you – and for the birds.
[For future posts, if you have pictures of birds, traps, trap arrays, and people that you could send along with your reports, that would be GREAT.]

Yukon, NWT, and Nunavut


Prairie Provinces

December 25, 2016
Best of the Season, Rick.
I wish I had a better present for you, but the situation here is not looking all that good. A snow storm about two weeks ago did bring the Snow Buntings in, and in decent numbers, but they are not staying. A feeding flock of 40-70 (one-time high count of 125 just after the storm) makes brief stops at the bait at sunrise and sunset, with sporadic visits from 10-20 during the day.
Most of the time they are entirely absent, and when they are on site they spend 5-20 minutes roosting in the poplars for every 1-2 minutes on the bait. But when they do want the millet they REALLY want the millet. At sunset yesterday a couple of White-tails kept them off the bait and when repeated “mobbing” didn’t dislodge the deer about fifty landed not twenty feet from the deck to glean under the feeders, which only happens once or twice a year, usually when wind buries the bait in snow.
Oh well, another Colorado low complete with blizzard is supposed to hit us today. Maybe that will change things for the better.

Bill Maciejko,
near Camp Morton, MB


December 27, 2016
Hi rick: Many small flocks of snbu here and sightings of hola and lalo intermingled with these flocks the largest flock I have heard of is a flock of 300 coming to corn just outside of Englehart at a birder who has been putting out corn for the past 5 winters. So far a small flock of under 25 birds has found the corn near Kerns Public [school] where we have been banding. Some days there are only 6 birds so we are waiting for the flock to increase in size before we attempt to band with the “school of flock”. Hopefully we will have more to report soon. Very happy to hear about the success of banders in the south.

Bruce Murphy
Hilliardton Marsh Banding Station near
New Liskeard, ON

December 26, 2016
Hello everyone,
We have over 100 Snow Buntings on our property right now, feeding on millet. They have been here for about 2 weeks already.
If anyone is available in our area for banding, please get in touch with me!!
Happy Holidays!

Lise Balthazar
Lanark, Ontario


December 26, 2016
Hi Rick,
Hope you had a very Merry Christmas! Glenn banded around 20 SNBU and 2 HOLA on the 21st. There were none for several days until after todays freezing rain. He checked this morning and banded 10 SNBU but the weather deteriorated too badly to stay out. It has been raining all afternoon.

Theresa McKenzie and Glen Reed
King City, ON

December 27, 2016
Hey Rick,
Jack has spotted some out by the farm where Joanne and I did some banding. Snow buntings were spotted Thursday, Dec. 22nd at 1384 Powerline Rd. West near Copetown. they saw about 20 on Christmas Eve too 🙂 We are hoping to try to get some banding in next week as I’m away but I’m not sure the weather is going to cooperate. We will let you know,

Faye Socholotiuk
Copetown, ON

December 29, 2016
I have done nearly 1000 Snow Buntings since December 11 .. and 5 Lapland Longspurs and 2 Horned Larks. The weather has been capricious and the snowfall variable .. we have placed 20 transponders on Snow Buntings to be detected by the Motus towers.

David Lamble
Fergus, ON

David Lamble with a Snow Bunting that he's just put a motus tag on.

David Lamble with a Snow Bunting that he’s just put a motus tag on.

December 29, 2016
I personally counted 180 during the Cedar Creek CBC as we had good snow cover. [This count is close to Essex/Kingville and was conducted on December 17th.] I came down with the ‘flu the day of the Holiday Beach CBC but we had lost our snow cover and they were absent in our zone. [This count was done on the 27th and is close to Amherstburg/LaSalle.]

Bob Hall-Brooks
Holiday Beach, ON

December 31, 2016
Happy New Year Rick and Nancy!
Just a quick update and something you may wish to add to the Blog Rick. As you know, our SNBU post-doc Emily McKinnon has been trying to get out another 20 avian nanotags ASAP given our early winter. We had hoped to deploy them with both David (Lamble) and Nancy. Given Emily’s very tight time constraints in the holidays since she had to fly out from Winnipeg and our short-lived snowy conditions here in SW Ontario, she ultimately deployed all 20 with David on December 23rd. Great news, but sorry we weren’t able to include you this year Nancy, but maybe next year!

I am extremely happy we were able to work with David this year for a number of reasons. First, I pitched this project to him many years ago and I am very happy we were finally able to make it happen with his help. Second, due to Emily’s tight schedule last year, very late snow conditions, barely any birds at banding sites and his banding proximity to BSC headquarters where tags were being activated, Emily ended up partnering with David Okines to deploy the 20 tags we had bought. David L was very happy this year (see attached photo of him deploying with Emily at Fergus) so I am glad we could make it all work out.
Now we wait for the data to roll in.

[PS: Sorry, here’s the link to our news entry for the work: http://www.oliverlovelab.com/news/]

Best to you both,
Oli Love, University of Windsor, ON

Despite a fairly thin snow cover, we were still getting buntings...in December!!   -N. Furber

Despite a fairly thin snow cover, we were still getting buntings…in December!! -N. Furber

December 31, 2016
On the 14th, I was just finishing off a Caribbean cruise with my wife when Nancy contacted me to say that not only were Snow Buntings in the area but….they were coming to the baited traps! This was a December first for us….we usually don’t start catching until the second half of January. That day she banded 9 SNBU’s, 6 HOLA’s and 1 LALO. For the next two weeks we got just enough snow to cover the ground and this, mixed with cold, windy weather, kept the birds in the area. By the end of December we have banded 124 SNBU, 18 HOLA, and 2 LALO. Interestingly, the Snow Bunting female:male ratio is almost exactly 2:1 – 82:42.

Rick Ludkin & Nancy Furber
Ruthven Park Banding Station, Cayuga, ON

The wide open field on Duxbury Road (3 km outside of Hagersville) - the openness makes it difficult for avian predators to sneak up undetected. Trap array is to the left of centre.

The wide open field on Duxbury Road (3 km outside of Hagersville) – the openness makes it difficult for avian predators to sneak up undetected. Trap array is to the left of centre.

Our current trap array. (We are getting some new traps made....so this will change.)  -N. Furber

Our current trap array. (We are getting some new traps made….so this will change.) -N. Furber

We find that Horned Larks are the first to find the bait; their feeding is noticed by the buntings who then come to it en masse. -N. Furber

We find that Horned Larks are the first to find the bait; their feeding is noticed by the buntings who then come to it en masse.
-N. Furber

Male Lapland Longspur.   -N. Furber

Male Lapland Longspur. -N. Furber


December 29, 2016
Hi Rick,
Here in Minganie, there is no Snow Bunting in the villages. We mainly catch in April during the spring migration. I wish to all the teams, good luck in their capture.
Happy Holidays

Yann Rochepault
Minganie, QC

December 29, 2016
Hi Rick,
Happy new year to you too!
There sure were TONS of buntings around Rimouski when I left before Christmas. I hope to start catching when I’m back in early January, although I will have to go hunting for a new capture site.
I’ll stay in touch if I have success,
Marie-Pier LaPlante
Rimouski, QC

P.S The newsletter will be ready at some point during January

December 11, 2016
Hi Rick,
Not sure if you’re in charge of the Snow bunting Network this year, but just wanted to let you know that the first flock of the season showed up in the field next to my house (Barnston-Ouest, Quebec) this morning. I hope it’s the beginning of a long season.

Carl Bromwich
(Barnston-Ouest, Quebec)



Newfoundland & Labrador:

December 24th, 2016
Rick, a couple sightings of small flocks in coastal dunes here in Gros Morne National Park on the west coast of Newfoundland this week.

Darroch Whitaker
Gros Morne N.P., NL


Dear Rick,
I am sorry to say that I will not be able to do Snow buntings this year and possibly not in the future. I had surgery on my thumb which I am recovering from and now found out that I need to have surgery on my shoulder. So I am out for this year’s SNBU season. The woman who did the baiting for me last winter sent me very detailed e-mail observations which I compiled into a Word file. It is long— seven pages and covers her observations from January to early March. If you think it would be helpful to have these observations I can condense it and send it to you.
Sorry my attempts at banding Snow buntings in Wisconsin have not been very successful– but not for lack of trying!
Vicki Piaskowsi Hartland, WI
[Of course I contacted Vick to say just reports on sightings would be great and we would like to get her colleague’s report……]

December 4th – Another REMARKABLE Recovery!

Saattut in Summer - home to southern Ontario Snow Buntings - or one anyway.

Saattut in Summer – home to southern Ontario Snow Buntings – or one anyway.

Louise Laurin at the Banding Office had lots of presents for me in her last notification of recoveries of birds we’d banded recently…..as if 2 Northern Saw-whet Owls weren’t enough!

But this one takes the cake! At an approximate 3,500 kilometers away it is the most distant recovery of a bird we’ve banded at Ruthven Park. (The previous record was held by an American Goldfinch found just outside New Orleans.) The Snow Bunting was found dead in Saattut, a small settlement on a little island off the east coast of Greenland. It had been banded on March 3rd, 2014 and recovered on July 4th, 2015. At the time of banding we had aged it as a male in its second year; i.e., it had hatched in the Summer of 2013. So it would have flown between southern Ontario and Greenland twice in its lifetime – what a feat!!

Google image of Saattut in Winter.

Google image of Saattut in Winter.

I would love to know the route. Due to a good number recoveries of banded southern Ontario birds in the Spring by Yann Rochepault and his colleagues in the Magpie/Riviere-St. Jean area of the St. Lawrence’s north shore, I think it is safe to assume that when ‘our’ birds leave in March they head along the St. Lawrence, possibly all the way to the Atlantic at the river’s mouth…..but not necessarily. Perhaps they cross Labrador before that. Once they leave Yann’s area they pretty well fall off the radar.
Striking country!

Striking country!

At some point they have to cross the North Atlantic to get to Greenland. The shortest water crossing would be from Cape Dyer on Baffin Island due east across the Davis Strait to Greenland. That would require going a long way due north and then east. Perhaps they fly diagonally NE from Labrador or northern Newfoundland to get there. Birds trapped in northern Newfoundland in the Spring have weighed over 60 grams – almost double their “fat-free” weight; easily enough energy for a long non-stop flight (in favourable conditions).
Lots of cracks in the rocks - nesting sites for Snow Buntings. And grasses below - food when it goes to seed.

Lots of cracks in the rocks – nesting sites for Snow Buntings. And grasses below – food when it goes to seed.

Wouldn’t it be neat to fit breeding Snow Buntings in Saattut with geolocators so we can see the exact route they take!?
Barren.....but very beautiful.

Barren…..but very beautiful.

[Note: all images were downloaded from Googe Images. I highly recommend that you take a few minutes to check out maps and pictures of Saattut on Google – to see where ‘our’ birds spend their Summers.]

Cross-country Snow Bunting Checkup – Jan 27-Feb 1, 2016

Temiskaming, ON – Joanne Goddard

We are having an interesting banding season here at Kerns’ (Temiskaming). The weather conditions seem to be perfect, mild temperatures (-1 to -15) lots of snow, but surprisingly few SNBU. The flock at school has only been as large as 200 birds all winter and they are proving to be difficult to catch. In fact driving around Temiskaming it is difficult to find any snow bunting flocks at all!! Since I have a grade 5/6 class this year I have only been able to band a few hours a week, and we have managed to band 230 birds so far (only 8 females). We have however had about 8 retraps from our past 4 years of banding. This has been super significant for my students because they have been able look back in our journals to see who the original banders were- many of which were the older siblings of my current students. Also of interest was a Shrike that we caught, banded, and relocated way back in 2013 found its way back to our site this year. Luckily we were able to catch it without any issues. On a side note, our Kerns’ location has also been chosen as a banding site by the Canadian Wildlife Service to take part in a winter finch colour banding survey. I have attached a few pictures of this as well. We were able to show some of our primary students some of our banding as well which was super exciting for them. Thank you to Bruce Murphy who has been helping us band this winter!






Lanark, ON – Lise Balthazar

My name is Lise Balthazar and I live in Lanark Highlands. I have been in contact with your network for a few years. I get Snow Buntings every year and I feed them white millet.

This year, I have about 120 to 125 birds. I am sending pictures which were taken by my husband, Nat Capitanio.

Lise Balthazar
Sheridan Rapids
Lanark, Ontario

P.S. I also have been looking for bird bander in my area for several years. I have the perfect site for it!






McGill Bird Observatory – Simon Duval

The number of birds seem to be increasing, but the snow cover is melting, with the forecasted rain and high temperatures over the next couple of days, who knows where the season is going!


From Jan 20 to 29, 60 SNBU were banded in seven mornings. The flock is still fairly small and not coming to the traps often.

Mirabel Season total: 193 SNBU, 1 LALO, 1 HOLA

The banders at Mirabel, Richard Beauchamp and Liette Fortier.

The banders at Mirabel, Richard Beauchamp and Liette Fortier.


From Jan 20 to 29, seven mornings of banding produced 172 SNBU and 1 HLALO. The flock grew to between 50 and 100 daily. The peak was on the 25th and 26th, when we banded 46 and 44 SNBU respectively. Interesting recaptures during the period included:
-1 SNBU banded in winter 2014-15 at St-Roch
-1 SNBU banded in winter 2013-14 at Mirabel

St-Roch Season total: 278 SNBU, 5 LALO, 5 HOLA.


Since the beginning of the winter, Coteau has been our most productive site, and the period covered by this report wasn’t any different. From Jan 21 to 29, eight mornings produced 208 SNBU and 11 LALO. The flock is on average around 60 birds, sometimes reaching highs over 100.

Coteau-du-lac Season total: 367 SNBU, 13 LALO, 39 HOLA.

Southern Quebec Teams’ total is 838 SNBU banded, we’re picking up the pace a bit, we’re only about 1000 birds behind last year’s total now.

Simon Duval
The Migration Research Foundation

Rimouski, QC – Marie-Pier Laplante

Things are slowly picking up here. I have been out banding in Bic, 30km West of Rimouski, a couple of times in the last week, and banded 40 birds. A prof from school baits the field behind his house daily. It does not come as a big surprise that he and his family are falling for Snow Buntings now! His daughter got to band her first bunting this week, it was a nice moment.

I think this site will work great for the rest of the winter!




Berthier-sur-mer, QC – Benoit

Here news from Berthier-sur-mer just 50km east of Quebec city.

I just start baiting last week-end. A few days later, more than 150 SNBU where feeding at my site. Wednesday, I have banded 13 bird for a school activity. I will put more time in snow bunting banding in the next week.

Total for the year: 13 (only male)

à bientôt,


King City, ON – Glenn & Theresa

Sorry but nothing happening here in King City – no snow buntings since the last post, and no snow either.

Hope someone, somewhere, is doing well with them this year!!

Glenn & Theresa

Hartland, WI – Vicki Piakowski

Our new banding area in Belgium, WI has had hundreds of Snow buntings the past week, devouring the bait within hours and keeping the baiters busy! Unfortunately, we are losing some of the snow cover that we had and today they were not staying in the area of the bait. We’ll try our first trapping and banding on Saturday. Snow is forecast for next week so that may help.

Vicki Piaskowski
Hartland, WI

October 13th – Thinking Ahead….To Winter

Snow Buntings getting a free ride on a fishing vessel - 80 kilometers off the SE coast of Labrador. This is a young (HY) male.  -L. Campbell

Snow Buntings getting a free ride on a fishing vessel – 80 kilometers off the SE coast of Labrador. This is a young (HY) male. -L. Campbell

We tend to think of the Fall migration in terms of neotropical migrants leaving their nesting grounds in the boreal forest and heading down to the tropics to overwinter. But there’s another migration going on with birds aiming to return from the far north to……our area. Juncos and American Tree Sparrows, for example, breed in far northern Ontario but spend their winters in our backyards. We are looking forward to banded individuals returning – some several years old. Like old friends.
A Snow Bunting with a penchant for seafood?   -L. Campbell

A Snow Bunting with a penchant for seafood? -L. Campbell

But another species is also making its way toward us. This one comes from the Arctic. Snow Buntings are on the move. Banding results have shown that many of the buntings that we see in southern Ontario spend their Summers in Greenland. The pictures you see here of Snow Buntings were taken by Lewis Campbell 80 kilometers off the coast of Labrador. The thinking is that these were birds making a cross-ocean journey from Greenland and had stopped for a rest on the ship. What an amazing bird it is!!
Probably seeking shelter from the wind.   -L. Campbell

Probably seeking shelter from the wind. -L. Campbell

Here’s the email sequence:
(From Darrock Whitaker in Newfoundland):
FYI Snow Buntings are on the move in Eastern Canada – see the message below
from the Labrador bird email group. The Charlottetown she’s [Eva Luther] referring to is
the one in SE Labrador so these would probably be birds crossing the
Labrador Sea from Greenland.

Charlottetown NL looks to be about halfway between Greenland and southern Ontario.   -D. Whittaker

Charlottetown NL looks to be about halfway between Greenland and southern Ontario. -D. Whittaker

(From Eva Luther):
These pictures were taken by Lewis Campbell of Charlottetown, about 80kms
off shore on the shrimp grounds. Wonderful pics.

Getting a rest before heading out again; 80 kilometers should probably take them about 3 hours (wind permitting). -L. Campbell

Getting a rest before heading out again; 80 kilometers should probably take them about 3 hours (wind permitting). -L. Campbell

(And not to be outdone, Emily McKinnon in Manitoba writes):
Hi all,
They are showing up in Manitoba now too – a report of a lone bird in Helca (about 2.5 hours north of Winnipeg, on the east of Lake Winnipeg). They are on their way!

Sharing a moment.    -L Campbell

Sharing a moment. -L Campbell

It’s somehow awe-inspiring to think of these birds making their way from the Arctic to the South. What obstacles they have to overcome! I was thinking, on viewing some of these pictures, that the birds looked a little knackered. I wondered why they had stopped on the vessel. If that was the case, what would have happened to them if the ship hadn’t been there?
Another sharing moment.....probably sheltering from the wind.  -L. Campbell

Another sharing moment…..probably sheltering from the wind. -L. Campbell


Cross-Country (SNBU) Checkup- April 7th



WOW! What a great winter it has been! I’m really happy to be sharing with you this last bunting checkup, with plentiful of great season reports in it. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to share the highlights of their 2015 season. Enjoy the reading!

Quick note : it would be great if everyone could send me their data once it’s been entered so that I can add it to the CSBN database. Thanks!


(March 28th) Just before the March Break we had a big melt, exposing lots of spilled corn around our site and making trapping snow buntings practically impossible. I hate to admit that I was looking forward to packing away the traps for the year, but then, in typical Northern Ontario fashion, a few more inches of snow fell.  Although the bird numbers had greatly dropped at our site, the students at Kerns decided to give it another week’s effort. Every day a small flock of about 30 birds came to visit the traps, every day we would catch 3 or 4 birds, and every day the kids hoped to get a foreign bird. On Friday March 27th we were surprised to band 26 SNBU in a flock that couldn’t be much more than 30 birds, and to our pleasant surprise, in that small flock was a David Lamble bird!  Also this week we had a couple of returning birds from other years and one of our birds was recovered by Simon Duval at his Coteau-du-lac site.

We will continue our efforts for another week to see if we can catch any other foreigns on their way north.  Here is a picture of us in our new banding shirts and toques- the third annual SCHOOL OF FLOCK snow hill picture! school of flock 15

One of Kern's fan club members. Humm.. Looks like a familiar face.

One of Kern’s fan club members. Humm.. Looks like a familiar face.

Jaden & Andrew

Jaden & Andrew

(April 2nd) Well we were determined to try to band a few more birds since our last post.  On Monday March 30th  two determined students Andrew and Jaden sat in the banding-mobile for two hours at the trap site. A small flock of about 20 snow buntings hung around the traps but the students were only able to catch one. Also a gathering of crows decided to take an interest in the site making catching snow buntings practically impossible.  We kept an eye out for the next two days, but besides seeing a solitary snbu flying over the school, no more birds have visited the trap site. Below is a brief outline of our banding season.  Needless to say the students were disappointed with our totals, but enjoyed the experience nonetheless.

Banding Totals

462 Snow buntings    (Previous record 1400)

7 Lapland longspurs   (previous record 64)

Interesting recaptures and recoveries

-On January 8th Simon Duval  recovers Kerns’ bird originally banded Jan. 28th 2013

-On January 25th Bruce Murphy recovers a David Lamble bird from Fergus Ontario at the Dawson Point site originally banded on Feb 4th 2014 as a second year male

-On January 29th Kerns’ students recapture 3 Snow buntings originally banded on January 29th 2013 (exactly two years earlier) and one snow bunting originally banded on Feb 23rd 2012

-On March 24th Simon Duval  recovers another Kerns’ bird originally banded on Jan 8th 2014

-On March 27th Kerns’ students recover a David Lamble bird originally banded on March 30th 2014.

-The longest bird to hang around Kerns was first banded on January 24th and was last caught on March 27th

-The most frequently recaptured snow bunting was first banded on January 29th and was caught 4 more times!  It was last recaptured on March 8thJoanne Goddard, Temiskaming

***  If you have not done so, go check out Kern’s student banding video on you tube! 

Hello, the Snow Buntings left my property around March 17th or 18th, just a couple of days after I spotted a Lapland Longspur among the flock. As always, I will miss their soft chirping and aerial display! I will let you know as soon as they come back next season, usually around December. Lise Balthazar, Sheridan Rapids

(April 6th) Report from Nancy Furber : It was a late start to the Snow Bunting (SNBU) banding season in Hagersville area for 2015 due to the lack of winter weather. During the month of January there was very little snowfall, some very cold COLD days but very few SNBU’s were observed and no bait site had been established. On February 1st and 2nd that all changed with the first snowstorm of the year when a Colorado low swept through the area leaving over 30 cm of snow.

On February 2nd, I established a few piles of corn at the old bait site in the country from 2014. I was hoping the Snow Buntings would remember the site from last year and return again this year. So, when I returned on February 3rd, it was a beautiful sight to see a small flock of Snow Buntings feeding on the corn. I was ready to band some Snow Buntings so I trapped my first buntings on February 3rd and the bunting banding season had begun! Through the month of February and the first week of March there were 28 banding days. The total number of birds banded was 3,602 birds: Snow Bunting’s – 3,462; Horned Lark’s – 124; and Lapland Longspur’s – 16 (significant drop from previous years). There were 21 foreign retraps and 12 retraps of Ruthven banded birds from previous years.

On March 3rd, I established a second banding site in the small town of Hagersville at the train depot. The two bait sites were six km’s apart, east to west. At the train depot, there were two grain cars on a side track. For over a week I had observed flocks of Snow Buntings (~300) feeding at this site. There were piles of oats scattered on the ground under the cars. Once I put a couple of small piles of corn down at this site the Snow Buntings were feeding on it instantly! The very first day (March 3rd) I banded at the train depot site, I retrapped six Snow Buntings that had been banded earlier in February at the bait site in the country! The Snow Buntings were flying back and forth between the two sites to feed.

Of the 21 foreign retrapped Snow Buntings, five of them were trapped at the train depot site and sixteen from the country site. The 14 retrapped birds with Ruthven bands included 12 Snow Buntings and 2 Horned Larks, all trapped at the country bait site. One of the oldest Snow Buntings was an ASY F banded in 2011 and the oldest Horned Lark was banded in 2013.

The month of February was one of the coldest months on record, with a mean temperature of -15 C. There was also a new Snow Bunting banding record this season with 3,462 buntings banded, the old record was 2,844 birds banded. Even with the cold temperatures some days were beautiful with the warmth of the sun and the site of watching the ‘Snowflakes’ (buntings) swirling and dropping out of the blue sky. Thanks to everyone for a great season!   Nancy Furber, Ruthven Park Banding Lab, Cayuga


Train depot site – busy days with birds coming in to feed.


Snow Buntings all lined up along the top.

Hagersville Train Depot Bait Site

Trap set-up successfully catching birds.


The new site at the train depot.


Always looking both ways as I crossed the tracks!

Duxbury Bait Site (2)

The bait site in the country. Open country in every direction.

 (31st March) I haven’t seen a Snow Bunting in the area in the past week. Most of the snow has melted and there is a lot of open ground to cover now. We may get a few small flocks moving through from the south over the next couple of weeks but I doubt that any will stay in one place for long. Cindy Carthwright, Bruce

(April 2nd) Hi Marie-Pier, a short summary for King City: 1668 SNBU banded 2015, with 596 recaptures vs. 1242 banded and 129 recaps in winter 2013-2014.  A consistent food supply in agricultural fields at and near the site is a likely reason for the higher bird counts, bandings and recaps.  The sex ratio change is harder to interpret with 18% females the previous year, 59% this.  We had many more opportunities to ponder those tricky to age females this year .

Age ratios were similar to last year:  73% juvenile age class (HY to Dec 31, SY from Jan 1) in 2013-14 and 76% juvenile this winter.We had 14 foreign birds recaptured,  several of which repeated after first capture, versus 8 last year, and no repeats.  10 of the 14 this year were within season bandings from David Lamble, 99 km to the west.  The others were S. Ontario bandings from last year.

As you know, we began scoring the crop this winter after realizing that there was sufficient variability to affect any analysis that might look at weight-fat score.  Using a 4 point scale ,where 0 reflects no visible food in crop, when viewed through the skin at the front, sides and back of the neck.  A score of 4 was recorded where there were 2 large bulging areas of crop (generally seen front and back, sometimes front and side of neck).  A 2 score for half full most often represented as one large bulge, rarely two areas half full.  1 and 3 scores were used if crop fullness was judged to be between the 0 and 2 or 2 and 4 levels.  We found good consistency between 3 banders in scoring this way.  It was a simple matter to blow the feathers aside to assess this, while scoring fat, simply by continuing the process around the neck of the bird.

It was an interesting season.  We hope some of these birds will still be seen heading back to the breeding grounds. We wish everyone a Happy spring.  On to the next banding season …. Theresa Mckenzie, King City

Bonjour Marie-Pier, we did ok with the Snow Buntings……. a final total of 7 061. I have included the times in the data set. I hope that is of value. Strange year……. over 1 000 females banded…… never had that many before. Oh well, I will look forward to next season…………………… David Lamble, Fergus

Hi Marie,

Here is our season totals in Glen Morris :

SNBU : 1050      HOLA : 109          LALO. : 2

17 foreign recaptures. 170 recap records.

Here are the foreign recaptures we do not have records for :

2531-30896  SY M


2691-56613 SY M

2691-80221 SY F

2691-81072 ASY F

Bill Read and Ross Dickson, Glen Morris


This year, Patrice Bourgault (Université de Sherbrooke) and I chose to band on 4 different sites around the city of Sherbrooke, QC. We stopped baiting at one of them, because no birds were seen after a month of baiting. My hypothesis is that the birds were disturbed by one of the neighbours. The 3 other sites provided us with some faithful groups of birds.

We can only band once or twice a week for half a day each session, although next winter I am planning to go almost full time. We started this project with several objectives in mind. First of all, we wanted to give the bachelor students another opportunity to band and to handle small birds. Another objective was to learn more about the dynamics of local movements of the Snow Bunting in the Eastern Township, which is apart from other sites in part, because it’s far from the main migration/wintering area (Great Lakes and St-Lawrence River) and the landscape surrounding the sites is mainly extensive agriculture and forested lands. So this is why we plan to band on at least 3 sites every winter to maximise the recapture probabilities between sites.

This year was a good one for us, we caught birds in almost every banding session. We had a total of 37 birds and one recapture from one of our bird. We caught only 3 females and 18 older birds. We banded 9 birds from Cookshire (the same site that was run by Marie-Pier Laplante last year; 45°23’11’’N, 71°45’0’’W), 12 birds from Richmond (45°38’04’’N, 72°09’03’’W) and 16 birds from Stoke (45°32’31’’N, 71°53’07’’W).


The nicely wind-sheltered Cookshire site where P-A is now banding.

We have a big project for next winter or the winter of 2017, which is to fix radio transmitters on Snow Bunting and to follow them as they move around to learn how they use their environment. The other thing that we will investigate is the differences in size on our different sites. The birds showed differences in mass and wing length through our sites. With more data, it is one of the things that we would like to look into, maybe linking it with isotope analysis. Pier-Alexandre Dumas, Sherbrooke

** In the La Pocatière area, Thomas Biteau was able to catch his first buntings this season (11) and mentioned he will continue on his effort next year, building on the experience his first season brought to him.

Report from Southern Québec : Mirabel : From March 9 to March 26, 18 mornings of banding produced 302 SNBU, 2 HOLA and 1 LALO. Overall, the flow of birds was fairly steady without any distinct peaks. During the period, we recaptured many birds, but 2 were of interest:

-1 SNBU banded in Coteau-du-lac 3 days before being caught in Mirabel

-2531-17159, a David Lamble bird banded in Arthur, ON on 02/14/2013, a Valentine’s day bird!!

Mirabel season total: 1063 SNBU, 5 LALO and 1 HOLA

St-Roch: From March 9 to March 26, 13 mornings of banding produced 110 SNBU. The peak for St-Roch was between March 21 to March 24 with 74 SNBU banded in 4 mornings. It was a pretty good winter but we realised that St-Roch is much better early in the season, with 64% of the captures occurring before January 8th.

St-Roch Season total: 988 SNBU and 6 LALO

Coteau-du-lac : During the period March 9 to March 28, we banded 316 SNBU, 2 HOLA and 2 LALO. We had two interesting recaps, one from King City and one from Kerns Public School. Keep them coming next year, please!

Our final day of SNBU banding was March 25, although we made effort until March 28. At that point our site had devolved into a quagmire and we admitted to ourselves that the season was over.

The age and sex class percentages of our SNBU captures for the entire season are:

HY/SY-M 53%
HY/SY-F 9%

Our efforts were challenged by extreme cold and very high snow banks, but we managed good coverage, with captures on 60 days of our season.

Coteau-du-lac Season total: 1096 SNBU, 36 HOLA, 21 LALO and 1 SOSP

It was a good winter for our three Southern Quebec Teams. We banded a total of 3147 SNBU, a record season for us! Simon Duval, the Migration Research Foundation

In Sainte-Luce this winter, 375 SNBU’s and 4 LALO’s were banded. I had only 10 recaps of my own birds and 1 foreign recap throughout the season. Unsurprisingly, the sex ratio was 92 % males, 8% females. Banding began January 8th and remained slow until around mid/end of February, when things picked up a bit. There were 30 banding days in total (usually only morning or afternoon for 2-5 hours. And last banding day was March 23rd (and last bunting seen in that area, too).

(April 3rd) Salut Marie-Pier, after a month without SNBU, following a VERY quiet winter for SNBU in Barnston-Ouest, a small flock of 26 showed up for a day on March 14.  Haven’t seen one since and don’t expect to before sometime next winter, when I hope they will return in greater numbers. Carl Bromwich, Barnston-Ouest, eastern townships


The group of 300+ in my Memramcook, NB yard has gone down to about 80-100 on Friday the 27th of March. Only about 60 Birds left Sunday March 29th. And NONE seen today so far 🙁 ….the very lively backyard I got used to since first week of January as gone silent and motionless. I will miss them. This was a first year of banding for us and we got organised way too late; but a good ”practice run” for next year. The results will be coming trough Dr. Nicolas Lecomte Alain Clavette, Memramcook, NB


I have tried for the last 4 years to attract SNBUs to my area, but to no avail.  Perhaps my area is too wooded – I see birds in the general area, but always in large groups and always in open areas, along the grid roads and seldom in the same place twice.  It is a very difficult situation here to try to attract them to a single location in numbers that would allow me to catch them, so I will probably bow out of the program for next year.  I would very much like to remain on the mailing list, however. Harold Fisher, Nisbet Banding Station, Prince Albert, SK


(March 23rd )We have had small groups of SNBU 20-30, travelling through Haines Junction for about 2 weeks. Started our banding March 18 in local hayfield. Have 130 birds present today with high % of males. A few have beaks that are turning black and all white heads. First day of trapping was one, then 9 and the third day only 7. Using some odd traps and need to make more. Last year was a total of 32 but I was working and our flock was only 30-40. Last year our banding period was only for 2 weeks as the birds travelled through the area very quickly

(April 2nd)We had a short season here in the Yukon March 18-28th. Snow was disappearing on the 28th and too much natural food appearing for the buntings to eat. Banded 136 birds, 68% males which seems like a lower number than the eastern  numbers?   When looking at ASY compared with SY of both sexes we had 57% SY of which most were young males. Learned to not put out too much feed and got organized and built some of recommended ground traps. Still having birds move through.This is the second year that we have the opportunity to work this lovely species Julie Bauer, Haines Junction, YT


Scenic Yukon AND buntings… Who wants to go for banding holidays at Julie’s?


Things are still slow for Snow Buntings in the NWT; none seen in the Ft Simpson area (southwest) this weekend, but there were a few reported from Yellowknife area.  With warm weather continuing, they should be coming through in good numbers very soon. Douglas Tate, NWT