March 5th – Missing Out

The 500th Snow Bunting banded this season. -NRF

You have to feel kind of badly for all those folks that are about to head south for Florida and beyond, ostensibly to take in some warmth and sunshine. What a shame! In most years we don’t see many (or any) Snow Buntings by the end of February – they need snow and cold and those conditions are usually gone by then. But this year we’re getting a treat – another cold snap! And with it Snow Buntings.

Actually we were having a pretty mediocre, if not downright poor, Snow Bunting banding season. We started banding them in 2010 and have averaged 1,406 per season. By the end of February we had banded only 346, not our lowest number by any means (we did only 40 in the non-Winter of 2012) but well below the average. We figured that was it. But you can never count Mother Nature (that capricious so and so) out. This cold snap has produced 226 Snow Buntings in March alone, including 77 yesterday and 98 today. And I just got word from Nancy (who was replenishing the bait at the Duxbury Road site) that there was a flock of about 250 feeding there. She will be heading out tomorrow to hopefully add to our total, which now stands at 572! It was a pretty tough go today: bitter cold and strong gusting winds that were blowing snow and filling the traps almost as fast as we could empty them. But, hey, that’s what bunting banding is all about.

So who would want to be heading for Florida and miss this bonanza!?

As an added bonus today we retrapped a Horned Lark that we had originally banded on February 17, 2016 (putting it in at least its 4th year) and a Snow Bunting that we banded on February 11, 2015. At that time it was in at least it’s 3rd year making it 6+ years old. What a tough old bird it must be to have made so many trips back and forth to the Arctic. We also retrapped a Snow Bunting (#1501-59970) that was banded by someone else, somewhere else – it will be interesting to find out this bird’s history.

Where we are in far southern Ontario we tend to get mostly female Snow Buntings. The males, so the theory goes, tend to stay further north, closer to the breeding ground so they can get back in time to set up territories before the females arrive. This reality is playing out again this year: of the 572 buntings banded only 105 (18.4%) have been males.

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