Snow Bunting, Plectrophenax nivalis


Snow Bunting, male taking off,
              6/1/11, Teller Road, Nome, AK
My fellow photographers and I found a pair of Snow Buntings on rocky tundra west of Nome, the female probably just arrived from the wintering grounds in Canada or the US, and we had the extraordinary luck to see their courting -- and photograph it too, albeit in challenging light and at a considerable distance, which at least for me meant less than good quality in the photos of the interactions. The first two pictures below suggest copulation, but about twenty seconds later they were followed by the behavior in the second two pictures, which definitely show a courting display. I think it more likely that the first two pictures show a known form of courting behavior described in the caption below.

Snow Bunting males return to their high Arctic nesting grounds in early April, when the weather is typically still very harsh; they establish a nest site with one or more rock crevices suitable for a nest, and then when females arrive later, the males attempt to attract them to the site by display flights, after which they show the female the potential nest, and court her with song and further displays, in flight and on the ground.


Snow Buntings, pair,
                6/1/11, Teller Road, Nome, AK
The photos above and below at first glance appear to illustrate copulation, but I think it's more likely to be the courting behavior BNA Online describes: "Sometimes the male grabs the female’s tail ... or upper back feathers and hangs on for 20–30 s[econds]."



Snow Buntings, pair, 6/1/11, Teller
              Road, Nome, AK


Snow Buntings, pair, mating display,
              6/1/11, Teller Road, Nome, AK
The behavior shown above and below followed that shown in the prior two pictures by about twenty seconds; it could be a version of what BNA Online describes as: "On the ground, the male walks around the female once or twice with his wings held up in a V prior to mounting female’s back." None of the photos I took of the interaction of these birds unequivocally show actual copulation.


Snow Buntings, pair, mating display,
              6/1/11, Teller Road, Nome, AK