It’s easy to associate the snow bunting with winter – it’s in the name! Find out five facts about this wintery bird in this blog from RSPB Scotland’s Allie McGregor.

Five facts about snow buntings

Snow buntings are incredibly hardy birds

They are the most northerly breeding of any land bird on earth! They can be found living amongst Inuit settlements in the Arctic and usually make their nests in natural cavities such as rock crevices.

 snow punting perched on small pile of snow
Snow bunting in Cairngorms National Park (

There is a small breeding population in Scotland

Here in the UK we have a very small number of breeding snow bunting, fewer than 100 pairs, in the Cairngorms and Western Highlands.

Much knowledge about the small Scottish population was thanks to Desmond Nethersole-Thompson who spent many hundreds of hours between 1930 and 1950 observing colour-ringed snow bunting pairs, which he named individually, on the tops of the highest mountains in Scotland. More recently, in 2011, the first national survey for snow bunting in the UK was carried out. You can find out more about it here.

In winter they can be found all around our coasts

The winter population of snow bunting in the UK is estimated to be between 10,000 and 15,000 which begin arriving in the autumn. They are most often spotted around our coasts.

 snow bunting on beach
Snow bunting foraging on a beach (

Their flocks move in a characteristic formation

As flocks move about, they leapfrog each other. The birds at the back flutter over those ahead of them, creating a sort of constantly rolling motion amongst them which one might describe as a small blizzard of birds…

Their movement might have inspired one of their alternative names

When they move in their flock, fluttering over each other in a flurry, one can easily see how they might resemble snowflakes. It’s unsurprising then that one of their regional names in snowflakes, or snow flecks. In Shetland they are known as Snaa Fool or Sna Fuhl. In this instance ‘fuhl’ or ‘fool’ is not a comment on the birds’ braininess, but simply means ‘fowl’.