Family Longspurs (Calcariidae)

Least Concern

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)


French: Plectrophane des neiges German: Schneeammer Spanish: Escribano nival

Emberiza nivalis


, 1758,



Often considered conspecific with P. hyperboreus, but juvenile plumages differ; also, interbreeding between the two is minimal, latter arriving on restricted breeding grounds earlier and apparently occupying most/all of suitable breeding sites. Geographical variation not well understood and complicated by much individual variation; ranges listed below tentative, and review desirable. Nominate race intergrades with townsendi on E Aleutian Is. Four subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • P. n. nivalis (Linnaeus, 1758) – N North America from St Lawrence I and coast of Alaska (including E Aleutian Is) E across N Canada (S to N Yukon, NW Mackenzie, C Northwest Territories, C Nunavut, Southampton I, Belcher Is, N Quebec and N Labrador) to coasts of Greenland, and N Scotland, Svalbard, Franz Josef Land and mountains of W & N Fennoscandia E to Kola Peninsula; winters from SW Alaska and S Canada (NW British Columbia E to Manitoba, Ontario, S Labrador and Newfoundland) S in USA to NW California, Utah, N New Mexico, Kansas, Ohio and Virginia (occasionally farther S on Atlantic coast) and, in Palearctic, British Is and N France E to S Scandinavia, Germany, Poland and S European Russia (occasionally S to Mediterranean and E to Asia Minor).
  • P. n. insulae Salomonsen, 1931 – Iceland, possibly also N Scotland; non-breeding visitor occasionally S to Faroe Is and Shetland Is.
  • P. n. vlasowae Portenko, 1937 – NE European Russia E through Siberia (including Severnaya Zemlya, New Siberian Is and Wrangel I) to Bering Strait and S to N Shelekhova Gulf and E Kamchatka; winters in C & E Asia S to N Caspian region, Altai, Mongolia, Transbaikalia, NE China, Sakhalin, Kuril Is, occasionally to N Japan (Hokkaido) and Korea.
  • P. n. townsendi Ridgway, 1887 – Commander Is, Pribilofs, and Aleutian Is.
  • Descriptive notes

    14–18 cm; 18–56 g. A large emberizid with large conical bill and relatively short, notched tail. Male nominate race breeding has head, neck and entire underparts... read more


    Song, often in flight display, a short, musical “turee turee tureee turiwee”. Call... read more


    Treeless, uncultivated barren rocky terrain, often near snow, also sea cliffs; often nests near or... read more

    Food and feeding

    Mainly seeds, but in breeding season also small arthropods. Young fed only with invertebrates, including variety of insects e.g. or orders... read more


    Pair formation by late May in Greenland, breeds from mid-May through Jul in Iceland, begins breeding in late May in Scotland, and pair... read more


    Most populations migratory; females move farther S than males, perhaps due to a thermoregulatory... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not globally threatened (Least Concern). Common or very common in appropriate habitat. Has extremely large circumpolar range, within which total population of mature... read more

    Recommended citation

    Rising, J. (2020). Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 22 February 2020).