March 24th – SNBU’s….Winding Down or Gearing Up?

The Common Redpoll on the right is darker and much larger than the one on the left - the righthand bird is the subspecies Carduelis flammea rostrata, also know as the Greenland race.

The Common Redpoll on the right is darker and much larger than the one on the left – the righthand bird is the subspecies Carduelis flammea rostrata, also know as the Greenland race.

I have been preparing today’s post for the past couple of days – cutting and pasting and clarifying emails from around the country. It certainly appears that SNBU’s are on their way toward the breeding grounds. They are pretty well gone from southern Ontario (except for Line Perras’s place about 30 km SE of Ottawa). And as you will see below, they have pretty well left Bruce Murphy’s Temiskaming area. They are showing up now along the central St. Lawrence River area as attested to by Alex Anctil. But there still aren’t any on Newfoundland’s West Coast as far as Darroch Whitaker can make out. Given the Winter they’ve had, maybe they’ve already gone(?).
Another look at the rostrata subspecies (right); not the extensive buff colouration in the cheeks and neck.

Another look at the rostrata subspecies (right); not the extensive buff colouration in the cheeks and neck.

While doing this I have been musing a lot about the travels of these hardy birds, the routes they take, and their far northern destinations. Ironically, today while I was at Ruthven sampling our Winter birds and looking for migrants returning from the south, I pulled a Common Redpoll out of the net that just didn’t feel “right” – it was big! And quite dark. Back in the lab I measured its wing (it was a SY-F) at 81 mm (almost 10 mm longer than the average we’ve been getting for “regular” female redpolls) and, with a fat score of just ‘1’ it weighed 17.7 grams! (“Regular redpolls are in the 13 g range.) This was a member of the subspecies rostrata, also referred to as the “Greenland race”. It is reported to breed on Baffin Island and Greenland. Ironic. It’s on the tail of the SNBU’s.
Male Snow Buntings...on their way back to the breeding ground?   -L. Perras

Male Snow Buntings…on their way back to the breeding ground? -L. Perras

Perhaps the biggest “finding” of this SNBU season was the discovery that birds banded in southern Ontario may take two very different routes back to the Arctic: up the St. Lawrence to Labrador and thence to Greenland or straight north through Temiskaming. And we wouldn’t have known about this second routhe if it wasn’t for the hard work of Bruce Murphy, Joanne Goddard and the hard-working students of Kerns Public School. Up until this year we thought they only used the St. Lawrence River route. So this really stood things on their head. Ah, the mystery of migration… never ceases to amaze. (And of course….if David Lamble wasn’t banding multiple thousands a year we wouldn’t be much further ahead.)

Below you will find the most recent Cross Country (SNBU) Checkup:


Hello Rick,
Not much to report from still-hard-frosted Camp Morton, MB.
I had 300 Snow Buntings Sunday (Mar.17) evening. That night we had over 4″ of snow followed by several days of frigid temps, flurries and severe drifting but no return of the Buntings, only 3-15 late each day. I can’t imagine them pushing on in the face of very strong northerly winds blowing day and night through Wed. (Mar.20). I can’t think where they may be finding any food near by, which they must be doing.
Still getting reports of small flocks (6-60) from a birder in the Fisher Branch area, but have heard of no other sightings in the past week.
Bill Maciejko
Gimli, Manitoba


[March 19th]
Hi Rick: Jo’s [Joanne Goddard] class has managed to band about 80 birds yesterday and so far today they caught a bird with the above band # [2421-90731] the same prefix David Lamble has been using and the bird had an auxiliary band on the other leg that I believe said hotline with a number and a website. I submitted the band to bbl but it looks like it was put on this year. Do you know who is using auxiliary bands and should we all be using them. [Auxiliary aluminum bands with just address information have been used for the past two seasons by David Lamble, Ruthven, and Oliver Love in an experiment to see if they increase reporting frequency.] It is snowing here 10 cm in forecast and I am off tomorrow for three days of winter camping without a chance to do snow buntings . Hopefully you are getting lots of migrants all the best
Murph [Bruce Murphy]

(We talked about how neat it would be if we could use colour bands with the snow buntings based on where we are banding southern Ontario could have one colour we could have another eastern Canada could have another etc might be visible with binoculars . This is all so exciting!! We will send you an update tonight thanks for getting us infected with the bunting bug.)

[David Lamble replies re band #2421-90731]
The bird was banded by me January 3, 2013 as an ASY-M, at my site near Arthur. I was busy that day and did not take any measurements — I did measure some of the 257 birds I banded, that day, but not that one………..sorry……….. getting too old and slow to do them all I guess. I did submit my data on the 9th of March, after all the birds left — sorry it takes so long to get the data into the system. Nice to have one of my birds show up at your site — very exciting. I did place about 1 000 auxillary bands on birds this year, meaning I have done about 2 500 double banded over the last 2 or 3 years. It will be a while to see if the extra banding increases recoveries. It is possible that because of the summering location of these birds, the extra band will not change the recovery rate. The bands are expensive and Rick, Oliver and I are hoping that foreign retraps/recoveries will increase. It would be very useful if it did work…………………
David Lamble

Temiskaming Leprechauns?? No, Kerns Public School banding group.   -J. Goddard

Temiskaming Leprechauns?? No, Kerns Public School banding group. -J. Goddard

[March 20th]
Hi Rick,
We at Kerns Public School are back in business! During the week prior to March Break, the students were discouraged by the lack of interest the buntings had in entering the traps to feed. Although there was a consistent flock of about 200, we only caught about 4 birds. A shrike that was hanging around added to our bunting blues! We all but decided that the March Break would mark the end of the season…..But one determined student named Steve continued to feed the birds while the rest of us relaxed or traveled to sunnier destinations. When we returned to school on Monday we decided to give it another go. The weather was clear, cold and sunny, which in our experience have been the poorest banding days, so without much confidence we set the traps, and to our surprise we caught 49 snbu in a couple of hours! We were pumped! So we tried again Tuesday, this time a snowy, warm day, and caught another 53, AND a bonus foreign bird banded by David Lamble early in January. From here on in we will take what we can get! To mark our success we took a class picture on the snow hill sporting our new, student designed banding T-shirts and in the spirit of Saint Paddy’s day, Josh wrote a lilting limerick! Attached is a class picture and a picture of Lenard and myself with our “bonus birds!”


[Poetry makes this site even more sophisticated, don’t you think?]

Take care,
Jo [Joanne Goddard]
Kerns Public School

Joanne Goddard and Lenard withtheir "bonus buntings".     -J. Goddard

Joanne Goddard and Lenard withtheir “bonus buntings”. -J. Goddard

[March 24th]
Hi Rick:
Our season has come to a close with the arrival of crows and one last surge of buntings. March 18th and 19th we managed to band about 120 in two days the bulk of those birds were banded by Joanne and her crew of Kerns Public kids who ended up with about 850 banded buntings which is a fantastic effort. Our other sites produced about 850 birds as well bringing us unofficially to 1700 buntings 24 Lapland longspurs and 6 horned larks. Our most significant news this past week was capturing a bird banded by David Lamble which brings us to 4 banded birds from David in four different years of initially being banded by the bunting master. He also recaptured one of the birds we banded this year establishing a corridor of movement between us and the south. Naturally our hopes have turned to wild expectations shared by all banders that one of “our” birds might show up somewhere along their migration north.
We were recently contacted by someone who said they saw a bunting at their feeder that had a band on each leg. This again has me wondering about the possibility of people in different areas using a colour band so we might be able to identify different area birds at a glance without having to recapture birds. Maybe I can save that research for a masters whenever I get to retire.
Good luck to those that are getting ready to band and again a huge thank you to the work of all of the students at Kerns Public, your devotion, curiosity and passion is an inspiration for all who know you and the great work you do. Maybe next year we will reach 1000.
Thanks to you as well Rick for all of the fine work you do and getting us all addicted to banding these beautiful birds. Hopefully the work of these banders will help shed light on what is happening in the world of buntings. Timiskaming signing out until next December.
[Bruce] Murph

[March 21st]
Hi Rick,
I just saw the first flock (about 75) of snowbirds here (North Bay ON area) since early winter, foraging in a field on Mar. 20.
I have an acquaintance who feeds a flock of buntings every winter (they stay all winter), he is in the Mattawa area, and I have given him your email address, hoping he will get in touch to give you more details. And I have also learned there is a wintering flock in the South River area. This flock is over 100 birds large.
Lori Anderson

Hello Rick, Dr. Love
I received your email address from Lori Anderson.
I have been feeding Snow Buntings on the driveway in front of my house for 28 years. This year I have a flock of 120. One day during a Storm the flock swelled to over 200. I’ve observed that they commonly do this.
It’s a nice day today (+5C), and the flock is down to about 75.
I recently had two Lapland Longspurs join them for a week. This occurs about every 3 or 4 years.
I live 5 miles south of Rutherglen, 25 miles east of North Bay. I have large open areas where they can approach easily.
Lori mentioned your banding efforts.It never occured to me look for Bands. I will do so now.
They don’t stand still for very long so it will be difficult.
Greg Boxwell

A flock of male Snow Buntings.        -L. Perras

A flock of male Snow Buntings. -L. Perras

Hi Rick,
I know the season of SNBU are done, but not for me. I have a question for you: do you have an idea what is the last date of March all SNBU are gone in Ontario? Honestly, I’m surprise to see SNBU at this date (March 21). I know that I have a lots snow, but sometime, the weather is looking like spring. I’m sure that I have approximatively around 200 SNBU. That`s bad, I’m not a bander. What about your area?
Here two pictures for you.
Line Perras
[Line, hopefully we’ll be able to answer your question. Bruce Murphy And Joanne Goddard are still catching Snow Buntings in northern Ontario.]
Largely male Snow Buntings can still be found in good numbers at Line's farm SE of Ottawa.   -L. Perras

Largely male Snow Buntings can still be found in good numbers at Line’s farm SE of Ottawa. -L. Perras

[March 24th]
Hey Rick,
I haven’t seen any here in a couple weeks, and am calling it quits.
Fergus Nicoll

[March 24th]
Hi Rick,
Here in Lanark, the Snow Buntings have been gone for about a month, earlier than usual. Also, the numbers were way down from previous years (+/- 60) and they would disappear for a few days, and then come back. The last couple of years, we had a flock of about 200 and they would visit our property on a daily basis.
Lise Balthazar

[March 24th]
Hello Rick:
My last bandings were on March 7. I have not seen any Snow Buntings since then — the recent cold weather and snow did not bring them down. All my records are in to the banding office and I will be submitting my foreign retraps in a couple of weeks — only 3 plus a Lapland, all of which I suspect are of this year……………. David Lamble, Fergus

Hello Rick:
I did 3,220 Snow Buntings 31 Lapland Longspurs and 20 Horned Larks. Not a great number but acceptable considering the “nice” weather…………… David Lamble, Fergus


[March 13th]
Hi Rick,
Warmer weather and rain have melted most of our snow cover this week so we’ve decided to end our season.
Mirabel site: 204 SNBU banded this year with a lot more effort than last year, thanks to a wonderful crew and their bander Liette!!. Out of the 321 SNBU we banded last year at the same site, we recaptured 4 this year which seems like a lot!! Anybody else seeing such good winter site fidelity? Here is this year’s age/sex breakdown with percentage, and last year’s percentage in parenthesis.

56 SY-M, 27,5% (37%)
139 ASY-M, 68% (58%)
5 ASY-F, 2,5% (2%)
4 SY-F, 2% (3%)

Senneville site: No captures this year, SNBU left early January and never came back. Next year!

I see that a few people are trying different trapping setups and are reporting better capture rate. I think it would be beneficial for the network that these people share details of their new traps so others can build them. I’m sure there is a way to greatly improve capture rate. [Great idea Simon – next year, I’ll see about getting pictures of the variety of traps/methods being used.]
Simon Duval

[March 20th]
Hello guys,
SNBU have been scarced the last 2 weeks. Rain and heat had
considerably reduced the amount of snow. However this morning was cold
and snowy and I immediately went to bait a nearby field. When I went
back there was around 200 SNBU in the corn. I managed to band 30 of
them. The snow drift was quickly filling the traps making it a bit
harder. This brings me to a total of 191 this year.

The really nice thing though is that I recaptured a bird that isn’t
mine. It’s an ASY male banded 2421-85557. The band looked a bit worn
suggesting it might not have been banded this year…

Any idea who banded this guy?
Alex Anctil

[Later the same day….]
Hi again,
The Bird Banding Lab is faster than ever and I already have news for my recap.
The bird was banded on February 15th 2011 as a SY, M about 10km E of
Arthur Ontario. I guess this is a David Lamble bird again?

[March 22nd]
Hello again guys,
I went trapping today and caught 69 SNBU. I also got another recap,
but this time the BBL has no info on the bird, so it might be one from
this year.
The band number is 2531-17405. It’s an ASY male. Let me know if you
get any info!
Alex Anctil

One of David Lamble's Snow Buntings on its way back to Greenland via Rimouski.   -A. Anctil

One of David Lamble’s Snow Buntings on its way back to Greenland via Rimouski. -A. Anctil

[And, again, here is David Lamble’s reply on March 23rd:]
Hello again:
The bird is mine –ASY-M — banded February 24, 2013 at my site near Arthur — wing 105, mass 41.6, fat 4. Excellent. Interesting that I sent the data set in almost 2 weeks ago and it is still not in the system. I assumed ( obviously incorrectly ) that all the Banding Office and Banding Lab had to do, was do an error check and dump the data into the system. Oh well, the data will get in eventually…………… David

PS I only did 71 birds that day — so they were all measured — I did not band any more Snow Buntings for 5 days after that, by the way — the birds simply vanished from my site due to the warm weather. ………………. David Lamble, Fergus

[And here’s Alex’s reply to David’s reply:]
Awesome, thanks David!
The bird was in good shape also. mass 41.9g, fat 4. The only
difference is I got 104 mm for the wing 🙂 So I guess it confirms that
birds really are moving north now 🙂
Alex Anctil

[March 23rd]
Hi Rick,
I must be spamming your mailbox these days 🙂
Today I managed something many considered impossible and got Ludo to
come and band SNBU. We had a really good day (to our standards
anyways) and banded 87 SNBU. We could probably have had more as there
was plenty coming still, but a young shrike snapped a bird and made the
rest very nervous. So we actually put time trying to catch the shrike
so it would let the SNBU alone. We did manage and caught this nice SY
shrike which was a banding first for Ludo who enjoyed getting his
fingers pierced by the sharp bill! Afterward our time was up… so
with this catch we’ve beaten our number from last year and are now
standing at 347 SNBU (including 32 in the aviary) and 1 LALO. We have
a clear majority of male again, but also more ASY than SY males.

Here’s a picture of Ludo and the shrike and also one from the retrap
SNBU from yesterday.
Alex Anctil

The infamous Ludo Jolicouer (known locally as Monsieur Mama) with a Northern Shrike.      -A. Anctil

The infamous Ludo Jolicouer (known locally as Monsieur Mama) with a Northern Shrike. -A. Anctil

[March 24th]
Hi Rick,
I banded another 60 today, making it 407 this year. A Shrike came by
again and no bird came to the cages after that.
Alex Anctil


No sign here yet but if anything they’re overdue. Bait is out and I’m
checking every day or two… but will be tied up in meetings until Thursday
afternoon so hope I don’t miss too much action if they do turn up!

All the snow is gone along the coast, unless we get a good storm catching
them will be challenging!

Darroch Whitaker
Gros Morne, Newfoundland


[March 18th]
Hi Rick and Oliver,
Well, I finally had luck in capturing SNBU—only two so far, but it’s a start. Here is the 1B band string I’m using:
1221-14704-14800. (I used bands 01-03 on other species in prior years.)
I plan to continue trapping until there are consistently no birds observed in the area of the bait and will send you the SNBU data in Excel format then.
Vicki Piaskowski
Hartland, WI

[March 21st]
Hi Rick,
Yes, on Mon. and Tues. there were 5-6 SNBU in a flock of about 20 HOLA feeding in the area of the traps and inside the open traps. Unfortunately the weather was brutal—cold and way below 0 F. wind chill. I thought it best that the birds just feed and not waste energy trying to get out of the traps. I didn’t see the SNBU today, but trapped anyway—2 HOLA. I will try again Fri and Sat. am.
Vicki Piaskowski
Hartland, WI

Leave a Reply