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

3 thoughts on “January 13 – Happy Returns

  1. Thank you, always, for your dedicated blog postings! They are so interesting & informative, to say the least!
    Your generosity in sharing a wealth of knowledge, experience & humour is greatly appreciated & enjoyed.
    Please keep up the good work 🙂

  2. FYI: Flocks of snow buntings seen yesterday morning (Feb. 17, 2018) in fields between Huntington and Athelstan, Quebec. R. Wood

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