January 13 – Happy Returns

Snow Buntings feeding on millet. -B. Maciejko

Much of Canada has been experiencing a prolonged deep freeze, unusual in relation to the weather of the past decade or so. Here in southern Ontario the temperature plummeted in early December followed by bouts of snow and this lasted up until a couple of days ago. The Grand River froze over and my son and I were thinking about getting out on it with our skis – something we used to do in the “old days” pre global climate change. But suddenly the temperatures skyrocketed and, with the rain, ate up much of the snow.

Extracting buntings and larks is cold work in -20 weather. -IT

But during that month we had really good Snow Bunting conditions and we took advantage of them. By the time of the thaw we had banded 637 (as well as 136 Horned Larks and 28 Lapland Longspurs).

Jumbled ice pieces from the river opening up upstream, a product of the recent thaw and rain, jam up the river by the Cayuga dam.

Many of these ice slabs are 6″-8″ thick.

As soon as the snow disappeared, so did the buntings. However, yesterday the temperatures plunged again and we got a dusting of snow. We have been running two sites so we hurried out and put down bait. Within hours birds had returned although not in the large numbers we had been seeing. But if the weather stays cold and we get a little more snow then we should be back in business.

Around the time Snow Buntings were turning up at our bait sites in December, I got an email from Lise Balthazar who lives in Sheridan Rapids, Lanark County – not too far from Ottawa. Last February my wife and I had travelled up to her place to see if we could band some of the large flock of buntings she was attracting there. On one Sunday we banded 89. Lise wanted to tell me that two of the returning birds she had seen this year were sporting bands. I wonder how much of a role these birds may have played in guiding other flock members to this rich food source.

And within the first two weeks of banding in December we recovered 4 birds. Two were Snow Buntings; One had been banded in February of 2015 and the other in February of 2016. Interestingly (because we band many fewer of them) the other two were Horned Larks – banded in January and February, 2016.

Given all this Snow Bunting excitement, last week I put out a call to other members of the Canadian Snow Bunting Network to see what they had been experiencing. Here’s the results:


January 7, 2018
Not a single bird here in South East NB.
I’ve seen some around but none in the yard here. None taking feed.
Alain Clavette
Memramcook, NB

January 7, 2018
Nothing in Stewiacke Nova Scotia.
Barb McLaughlin

January 11, 2018
Rick and Oliver,
There is a flock of about 50 birds at the usual farm where I used to catch them. I also saw another flock of about 50 flying from a road I was driving on in that general area. I stopped catching them because I was getting too many blue jays and starlings in the traps. If I can find a better location are you still needing people to catch and band them? [Of course, Dorothy!!]

Depending on the cold weather I sometimes see them right here at my own house, and could trap them here if that is the case.
One was at our feeder last week, but only one.
Dorothy Diamond
Stanley area, NE of Fredericton, NB


January 7, 2018
Hi Rick
The SNBU in King City are not very cooperative. They are around. The strong winds have the fields partially blown bare. I have flocks of 25 to 150 but they will not stay at the bait very long if the traps are down. They circle around for five minutes and then leave – very frustrating. I have managed to catch 181, approximately 50% adults and 75% females, very different proportions from previous years.
Glenn Reed
King City, ON

January 7, 2018
Hi Rick – cold here too – Nipissing District just SE of North Bay.
I am still providing feed for SNBU, the flock was late to show up – a week into December, but this was certainly weather related – abundant natural food and warm temperatures to that point.
120 SNBU and 3 LALO are currently feeding. This is a high normal count for my feed station. Have not seen any banded birds – and I look!
Happy Banding,
Lori Anderson
North Bay, ON

January 12, 2017
I haven’t come across any around here although now that we are back in class, I haven’t had much time to do much else. Our semester has been extended until Monday. My idea was to throw some seed out on campus to see if I can get any to stick around. but there aren’t any good open areas nearby which means there are a lot of perches for shrikes, etc.
Darryl Edwards
Sudbury, ON

January 7, 2018
I hope you had a nice Holiday season. Over here, we have plenty of snow and frigid temperatures!
The Snow Buntings have been hanging around pretty much every day, but there is only about 40 to 60 of them, which is less than what we had last year.
They have been feeding mostly in the driveway, close to the house, so I’ve been able to examine them to see any leg bands. So far, I’ve only been able to spot 2 birds with a leg band. Mind you, they keep their legs covered most of the time and, of course, they don’t stay in place very long!

This morning, Sunday, more Buntings showed up and I have now about 100 of them.
Lise Balthazar
Sheridan Rapids
Lanark County, ON

Prairie Provinces
January 10, 2018
Hi Rick,
I’ve no idea what the banding situation is around here. My own observations, and the notices I’ve received from loyal observers on social media and seen on eBird are not all that promising. Some large flocks (200-300) were seen in the south Interlake region several weeks ago. Since then reports are of small drifts (a few individuals to a few dozen) but never in the same place twice. I followed up the large flock seen earlier and found them in adjoining sections of harvested and tilled grain fields. They were gleaning the bare ground with large numbers of Redpolls, but these fields will be pretty much snow covered and barren now.

Here at home (west of Camp Morton) I had none until two showed up on Christmas Eve. Four-six have been making brief appearances since, until today when the flock swelled to a whooping sixteen! They’ve found the bait and are taking it, so we’ll see what happens.
Bill Maciejko
Interlakes, Manitoba

[Bill is a great photographer and, even more important, a keen observer of the natural world around him. I always enjoy seeing his Facebook pages with their colourful photos and thoughtful commentary. He has kindly allowed me to pass on some of their Snow Bunting content…..]

Flock of male Snow Buntings. -B. Maciejko

Male Snow Buntings. -B. Maciejko

Snow Bunting flocks wintering in this area are overwhelmingly, often exclusively, comprised of adult (ASY=After Second Year, in bird-geek-speak) males. Twenty-three were present this morning, seventeen when this single burst was captured just before noon. The one and only immature (SY) male of the flock appears in every frame. If inclined, compare the wing colour/pattern to find him

Two older (ASY) males – the righthand 2 birds – and a young (SY) male. -B. Maciejko

Not staying long enough for a “roost,” at least Snow Buntings were perching in a roost tree today…a good indication they’re considering settling in for the season.

An unusual sight: Snow Buntings roosting in trees. -B. Maciejko

I’ve seen it hundreds of times, but only yesterday did it register with me that Snow Buntings utilize the depressions made by deer hooves as ready made snow shelters, the sides of the “divits” concentrating the sun’s warmth while trapping body heat.

Snow Buntings taking shelter in deer hoof prints. -B. Maciejko

January 13, 2017
Had just over 100 Snow Buntings briefly this morning, and many are hanging around the yard, roosting in the poplars 30-50 at a time for most of the day.
If this keeps up for a few days, I’ll get in touch with Emily and we might get the traps out. Who knows?
It’s now 1530h and sixty-three just landed at the bait. I’ll keep you posted.
All the best,
Bill Maciejko

Yukon, NWT, Nunavut

January 12, 2017
Hello Rick and Marie, Happy New Year. We have had very cold weather here in the Yukon and as expected very few buntings. One adult male was seen near Kluane Lake on December 28. and we have a small flock hanging around the community of Haines Junction utilizing the agricultural fields. The flock appears to like oats and they were seen for the local CBC. This flock of up to 13 has been in the area since early December.

I am really interested to see how 2018 spring banding goes here after the previous successful season. Do either of you know if Emily McKinnon is banding in Manitoba?
I am looking at applying for a master banding permit and would like to know if my banding information has been utilized? I am not sure if I could be considered a collaborator for the Snow Bunting network?

I have attached last years banding info for you both, at the end of the emails. [Julie would likely send you her results if you asked. Bottom line: she banded 1,173 SNBU’s and 2 Lapland Longspurs. Her heaviest bunting weighed in at 55.6 g with a ‘5’ fat score!!]
Julie Bauer

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