Fersiwn Gymraeg ar gael yma

With Christmas fast approaching, there are a number of birds you might see whilst out walking who have migrated to Wales for the winter.

One of those is the snow bunting. Snow buntings are members of the bunting family and are recognisable by its striking snowy plumage.

Most commonly, snow buntings can be found breeding around the arctic from Scandinavia all the way across to Alaska, Canada and Greenland. But towards the end of every September, they migrate south with a number of them migrating to Wales and other parts of the UK.

Their natural habitat is on farmland, upland or close to the sea which is why you will find most of the snow buntings that migrate to the UK dotted around the coastline. You are most likely to find them during the winter months on coast sites in Scotland and all the way down the east coast of England as far south as Kent. Snow buntings can usually be seen up until around February and March, when they head off north to breed.

Here are some facts about the Snow Bunting in case you come across one on your wintery walks.

  1. Due to them being a scarce breeding species in the UK, they are an amber list species and are listed under schedule one of the Wildlife & Countryside act 1981. The scientific name for the snow bunting is Plectrophenax nivalis. The name Plectrophenax comes from Ancient Greek “Plektron” which means cock’s spur and “phenax” which stands for imposter and “nivalis” which derives from Latin and means snow.

  2. Currently, there are around 60 breeding pairs of snow buntings in the UK, mainly in Scotland, but during the winter between 10,000 and 15,000 snow bunting migrate to the UK.

  3. In the summer, the male snow bunting will have a white head and underparts contrasting with a black mantle and wing tips. The female snow bunting has more of a mottled appearance compared to the male.

  4. During the autumn and winter months, snow buntings will develop a sandy or buff wash to their plumage and the male snow bunting will see their upperparts have a more mottled appearance.

  5. It’s not only the feathers of male and female snow buntings that are different in colour but also their beaks. Whilst the male snow bunting has a black, short and chunky beak, the female snow bunting also has a short and chunky beak but it’s a mixture of black brown and yellow in colour.

  6. Snow buntings measure between 16cm and 17cm, have a wingspan of up to 38cm and can weigh up to 50g which is roughly the equivalent weight of ten 20p pieces.

  7. During mealtimes you’ll more than likely see snow buntings enjoying a meal of either seeds or some insects.

To find out more about snow buntings and other birds that migrate to Wales for the winter click here.