Emberiza nivalis Linnaeus 1758, Lapland. Two subspecies.
OTHER COMMON NAMES
English: Snowflake, snowbird; French: Bruant blanc; German: Schneeammer; Spanish: Escribano Nival.
6–7.5 in (15–19 cm); 1.5 oz (42 g). Sexes differ in color. Males in summer have a white head, a black back sometimes mottled with brown, a black rump mottled with white, white outer tail feathers partially tipped with black, and white underparts. In winter, the white areas are washed with pale rusty brown. Females in summer resemble breeding males, but the crown is dusky and black areas are paler, often brownish. In winter they resemble winter males. Juveniles are grayish with pale bellies.
Circumpolar. Breeds from Iceland, northern Scotland, the mountains of Norway and Sweden, Spitzbergen, Franz Joseph Land, north Kola Peninsula, Novaya Zemlya, northern Russia and northern Siberia east to Wrangel Island, the Bering Strait, and south to east Kamchatka, northern Alaska and mountains of Alaska, northern Canada north to Labrador, and the coast of Greenland. Winters south to British Isles, coast of northern France, Denmark, Germany, Poland, southern Russia, Manchuria, Korea, Kuril Islands, and Hokkaido–, and in North America to western and southern Alaska and from central and southern Canada south along the Pacific coast to northern California, the central Plains, and coastal North Carolina. P. n. insulae breeds in Iceland, and P. n. vlasowae breeds in northeast Russia east through Siberia and to the Bering Strait.
Breed in the high Arctic in sparse, dry, rocky areas such as shores, mountain slopes, and rocky outcrops. During migration and winter they are characteristically found in field, pastures, roadsides, and along the shore.
Males arrive on the breeding grounds well before females. When the weather begins to warm, they establish territories, and chasing, flight-singing, and fights are common. When on the ground, they run rather than hop. In winter they are often found in fairly large flocks. As they move through a field, they appear to roll along like blowing snow as the birds at the back of the flock leap-frog over those toward the front. Although they generally stay on the ground, they sometimes will fly up into a tree. They are sometimes associated with horned larks (Eremophila alpestris) and Lapland longspurs (Calcarius lapponicus).
FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET
They feed on the ground. In summer they take insects and other invertebrates, but in winter they eat principally seeds and grain.
Most are monogamous, but individuals of either sex may have two mates. Nesting takes place from late May through July. The nest, which is a large thick-walled bulky cup of dried sedges, grasses, and lichens, is placed on the ground, often in a crevice in rocks. They lay three to nine (usually four to seven) eggs. Incubation lasts 10–15 days, and the young fledge after 10–17 days. Both parents feed the young.
SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS
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