Search Field Guide
Advanced Search
Montana Animal Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Snow Bunting - Plectrophenax nivalis

Google for more images Google for web pages

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S5N

Agency Status
USFWS:
USFS:
BLM:
FWP Conservation Tier: 3
PIF:

External Links







 
General Description
Medium-sized, sexually dimorphic songbird with white underparts and black-and-white wings. Breeding male is entirely black and white, with white head, nape, breast, belly, rump, and outer tail feathers and black back and central tail feathers; black-and-white wings. Breeding females have wings and tail like the breeding male but are rufous streaked with gray on the back; crown, lores, and auriculars pale rufous; underparts white with pale rufous wash on flanks, and band across breast. Fall and winter male and female like breeding female (Lyon and Montgomerie 1995).

General Distribution
Montana Range



Western Hemisphere Range

 


Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations: 587

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density

Recency

Breeding
(direct evidence "B")


Breeding
(indirect evidence "b")


No evidence of Breeding
(transient "t")


Overwintering
(regular observations "W")


Overwintering
(at least one obs. "w")



 

(Records associated with a range of dates are excluded from time charts)



Migration
In the Bozeman area, the normal migration period in the spring is February 10 to March 15, with a peak on February 25.

Habitat
Breeding range: rocky areas (for nesting) in or near vegetated tundra (for feeding). Winter range: open weedy and grassy fields, grain stubbles, shore; after heavy snowfall, conspicuous on roadsides and in farmyards. Attracted to debris piled up by wind on shores of lakes and rivers (Lyon and Montgomerie 1995).

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (high, medium, or low) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2001, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species’ range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of “observations versus availability of habitat”.
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were associated as using an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  High, medium, and low habitat quality was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species in the literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignments of habitat quality.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact Bryce Maxell at bmaxell@mt.gov or (406) 444-3655.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: http://mtnhp.org/requests/default.asp) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species’ known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2001.  The wild mammals of Montana.  Special Publication No. 12.  Lawrence, KS: The American Society of Mammalogists.  278 p.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana’s amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
Late fall to spring: mainly weed and grass seeds. Summer to early fall: mixed diet of seeds, buds, and invertebrates. Always forages on ground (Lyon and Montgomerie 1995).

Reproductive Characteristics
Males return to their high arctic breeding grounds in early April to choose nest site because the competition for high-quality nest sites is intense. Females arrive 4 to 6 weeks later. Nests in rock cavities. Eggs are subelliptical; creamy white, pale blue or greenish blue background and variably marked with spots, blotched, scrawls. Significant annual variation in mean clutch size: 4.31 to 5.73.

References
Login Logout
Citation for data on this website:
Snow Bunting — Plectrophenax nivalis.  Montana Field Guide.  Montana Natural Heritage Program and Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.  Retrieved on April 23, 2014, from http://FieldGuide.mt.gov/detail_ABPBXA8010.aspx
 
There are currently 7 active users in the Montana Field Guide.