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Snowflakes: Snow Buntings, Maine's Blizzard Birds


Descending flocks of snow buntings looks like a swirl of giant falling snowflakes.

While watching today’s swirling blizzard snows I couldn’t help but think that the animal of the day is the snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis). This plump little bird spends its summer in the Arctic Circle and migrates south to the warmer climate of Maine after breeding season, arriving in November. This little bird used to be known in Maine and elsewhere as snowflakes. They earned this nickname because as a swirling flock of them descends into a field, the bold white and black of their wings and belly make them appear like giant flakes of blowing snow. Arriving in late fall, flocks of these birds spend their winter eating seeds from the tall grass and meadow flowers sticking out of the snow in open areas. A common sight on farms they never enter the forest. During deep snows of blizzards snow buntings often descend on the only ground where snow cannot stick, the manure pile - a fixture behind the barn of working farms, composting and producing heat - the snow cannot stick. And the snow buntings picks through this hot ground for seeds, these feathered snowflakes are survivors - they are the only snow that survives on these hot compost piles. It is a testament to Maine’s pragmatism that this fact is the one highlighted in our state’s first comprehensive bird guide, the 1897 Birds of Maine by Ora Knight. Think of the animals warmly during this bit of blizzard.





Image Credits:

Snow Bunting Flock in Snow by Simon Pierre Barrette,CC-BY-3.0

Steaming Manure Pile: Ian Paterson, CC-BY-2.0

Single snow Bunting on Snow: Nigel Wedge, CC-BY-2.0

Snow Buntings on Grass: John Haslam, CC-BY-2.0


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