The Snow bunting is fairly large and long-winged, 15-18 cm (5.9-7.1 in) long and with a wingspan of 32-38 cm (13-15 in), and weighing 26-50 g. In flight, it is easily identified by its large white wing patches. The breeding male is unmistakable, with all white plumage and a black back. The breeding female is grey-black where the male is solid black. In winter plumage, both sexes are mottled pale ginger, blackish and white above, and pale ginger and white below, with the males having more white than the females. The bill is yellow with a black tip, all black in summer males. It has feathered tarsi, an adaptation to its harsh environment.

Habitat and Distribution

Some populations breed on a few high mountain tops south of the Arctic region, including the Cairngorms in central Scotland and the Saint Elias Mountains on the southern Alaska-Yukon border, and also Cape Breton Highlands. The breeding habitat is on tundra, treeless moors, and bare mountains. It is migratory, wintering a short distance further south in open habitats in northern temperate areas, typically on either sandy coasts, steppes, prairies, or low mountains, more rarely on farmland.


This bird shows little fear for humans and feeds on grain or other scraps put out for it.


It builds its bulky nest in rock crevices. The eggs are blue-green, spotted brown, and hatch in 12-13 days, and the young are already ready to fly after a further 12-14 days.

Calls and Songs

The call is a distinctive rippling whistle, per,r,r,rit and the typical Plectrophenax warble hudidi feet feet feew hudidi.