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Snow Buntings

Posted on Nov 18, 2015

It is early enough in the avian wintering season that both the earth and the birds – in this case, Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) – are brown. We do not have a solid snow cover yet, and it is amazing how well this plumage is designed to help them blend in to the ground. The Snow Bunting camouflage looks like brown grass and, somehow, a rocky, sandy and rough earth, with their wings showing off the darker pattern of what the tundra and short grasslands look like now.

Snow Buntings feeding November SFP-8035

Snow Buntings feeding November SFP-8016

Snow Buntings feeding November SFP-7994

Snow Buntings feeding November SFP-7975

Snow Buntings feeding November SFP-7969

Snow Buntings feeding November SFP-7933

Snow Buntings feeding November SFP-7924

Notice how well these birds keep themselves just off the surface even while engaged in feeding, hiding their whitest parts and being barely discernible to predators even while actively foraging. My view here, with a long lens from their side and laying on the ground myself, helps to exaggerate their size and make them more noticeable. However, if you were an aerial predator you would have a difficult time spotting them with their upper parts completely camouflaged. Any non-human mammal lucky enough to notice them would have to approach and attack in open country, and surely one (or many!) of these few dozen individuals would spot them from a safe distance, with the flock flying away easily. Natural art is spectacular.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator