March 7th – Snow Bunting News & Updates

Following is a “hodge-podge” of correspondence I’ve received from across the Network.

Fellow CSBN banders.
It is with great pleasure that I announce that the CSBN has been awarded a Bird Studies Canada Baillie Foundation Award ( for 2012-13 in the amount of $2,000.00 in recognition of all of the hard work we have been doing over the past year. Together with our own funding sources at the University, this money will go a long way to offsetting some of the costs to our volunteers for all of their dedicated work. As always, please keep track of your receipts for corn, banding supplies (rulers, banding pliers) and trap-building materials, and send me an itemized list and your address at the end of your banding season (my address below). As we have many requests each year, and since the network has grown tremendously in 2011-12, we may not be able to fully reimburse all of your costs, but we will certainly try. As always, I will do my very best to spread the funding across as many banders as possible.

Christie Madonald

A big thanks goes out to CSBN coordinator Christie Macdonald for all her hard work in preparing the application and our recent newsletter that BSC were so impressed with.

Here’s hoping there are still a few birds to catch in your area, and if not, let’s now hope some of your birds can be seen at migratory stopover locations.

All my very best.

Oliver Love
Biological Sciences
University of Windsor

From Dorothy and Tony Diamond in New Brunswick:
Hi Rick
Here’s a pic of Dorothy doing all the work, for the blog….

Dorothy Diamond....hard at work. - T. Diamond

We’re off to Belize tomorrow. Not taking any traps though! We
(Dorothy) got 100 new SNBUs and 17 of our own recaps; only 5 females
in all I think.
If there are still birds around when we get back we’ll pick up again.

A.W. Diamond, Ph.D.
Research Professor, Wildlife Ecology
University of New Brunswick

Hi Rick,
I banded my 100th new bird yesterday, and have 17 recaps. I’m afraid that will be it for us for this year, as we are off to Belize tomorrow. There is a small flock at our place too, about 20-30. I will be sending the data sheets to Oliver today.

It was a fun and cold experience. It isn’t the best site for banding as the birds are much disturbed by movements in the house and on the farm, and stay on the ground for only a few seconds at a time. I will think of how to do it better next year, maybe by moving the feeding site a bit farther away from the house. Still the owners are very cooperative and interested in the project. We should give them some final report of something.

Hope all is well with you.

From Alexander Anctil in Rimouski:
[I had asked Alex and Ludo if they were noticing any increase in numbers as wintering birds start to head back up the St. Lawrence on their way back to Greenland.]
Hi Rick,
SNBU numbers are indeed slowly increasing here. The flock around my
house got up to around 100. LALO have also appeared recently (I hadn’t
seen any in the winter and suddenly they are almost regular, but in
very low numbers though), which I guess is a good sign that movement
is happening. LALO were banding ticks for my girlfriend and I, so it
was a nice treat!
We have now banded 284 SNBU, 9 HOLA and 3 LALO and we’ll keep on
banding. March should be a good SNBU month here as they gather in
large groups in the region during this month. Recent snowfall might
give us some good banding in the coming days.


From Bruce Murphy in Timiskaming (norhern Ontario):
HI Rick:
The birds are showing some signs of trap wariness as of late but we are up to 317 SNBU and 40 LALO; no HOLA to report as of yet; hopefully before the snow goes. We are supposed to get 15 cm of snow on Saturday and have high hopes of a good day banding on Sunday. Hope others are enjoying success.

An interest in birds should be nurtured in the young (and young at heart). - B. Murphy

Hi Rick:
Someone told me on the weekend [at the OBBA AGM] that we weren’t bunting banders until we caught 100 in one day. So after making some modifications to our traps after what we learned from the OBBA and after more inspiration from talking to so many bunting banders we couldn’t wait to get our traps out and Joanne and her students were able to capture 94 birds today and after school I added 18 on my own giving us a 109 today 104 snbu and 5 lalo. Our grand total now sits at 242 with 207snbu and 35 lalo…. It seems the recent snow has brought more buntings to the corn and we may have good news to report each week. I have to admit it I love banding snow buntings. I have to say how much we all apprecite the work being done by the grade 7 and 8 students of Kerns public school.

Technical Section: Aging female Snow Buntings is proving to be more complicated than we had wanted. It was thought that SY vs ASY females could be readily separated on the basis of the amount of white on the Greater Secondary Coverts – see the pictures in the most recent protocol. But as the following picture and discussion indicate, this isn’t necessarily correct (although it probably is in most – 95% – of the cases).

Here is a photo of one of two HY-F SNBU trapped on 3 August 2011. The other one was similar. Both still had grey juvenile body plumage so there is no doubt about their age.

A "confusing" wing pattern on this HY-F. - D. Hussell

If you look closely, you will see the GC1 [Greater Covert #1] is fairly typical for HY with black on the inner web extending nearer to the tip of the feather than the black on the outer web. But other GCs, particularly GC3 and higher, are similar to most AHYs.

PCs [Primary Coverts], and the rest of the wing are quite similar to typical AHYs.

My conclusion: If GC3 has more black on inner than outer web you can be sure you have a HY. If not, it could be either HY or AHY, but more likely AHY.

My experience is that HY-Fs that look like this are rare. The two I got on 3 August were hanging out together and may have been sibs with the same parents (i.e. genetically similar).

To be 100% accurate, we need to look for other criteria. Is GC1 definitive? HY-Fs usually have black on >3 secondaries, as does this one; AHY-Fs often have black on 3 or fewer secondaries. I will have to look at more photos of known AHYs.
David Hussell

Thanks very much David.
We are still finding it increasingly difficult to age females, and we even have some females at East Bay [Southampton Island] that have bred multiple years that retain SY plumage characteristics. Very frustrating.
Your input has always guided us so thanks for this update.

I am not that pessimistic. I still think we are probably getting at least 95% right, which meets the banding office standard…. I still think that the GC3 criterion is pretty good, but evidently there are exceptions. I took additional known-age GCs at TCBO after the original ones in 2001. I have not examined them in detail, but I recall that some were not as obvious as the original batch.
There were also a couple of individuals that had both kinds of GCs, which I thought may have resulted from some GCs being moulted in the first pre-basic.
These kinds of doubts are one reason why I have not published my key. I would like it to be 100% correct, even if not good for ageing 100% of the birds.

In subsequent years at TCBO, I collected a lot more data on other variables, such as number of primaries and secondaries with black on inner and outer webs, similar information on tail feathers, etc. etc. These data could be used to run a discriminant function and identify which variables, separately or together, give the greatest separation between age classes. Unfortunately the data went missing in our move from Ottawa to Simcoe. It must be here somewhere, so I will have to do a thorough search.

What SY plumage characteristics are you finding on older females?
David Hussell

1 thought on “March 7th – Snow Bunting News & Updates

  1. We had difficulty aging some females (not a lot but enough). There were a number we called “tweeners” – they had more extensive white in the GC’s but not enough (we felt) to warrant the age of ASY. As these birds seemed to be in-between, we put them down simply as AHY (in January through March) and U in December.

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