Snow Buntings Visit Baltimore

Snow Bunting
Snow Bunting

Maryland birders have been excited about Snow Buntings for the past week or so. They are not frequent visitors to our area, so when someone spotted four Snow Buntings along the pier at North Point State Park east of Baltimore, local birders began visiting the park in a steady stream to get a look at them.

Jim and I visited the park last Saturday where we saw three of the four. The pier stretches out from the park into the Chesapeake Bay. It is a long walkway out into the water, with grass and mesh along the path edges and a border of rocks sloping down to the water’s edges along it. (The park has a $3 entrance fee, something we neglected to check on ahead of time. Note to self: Tuck a few dollars into the birding bag to avoid last minute trips to find an ATM!)

Snow Buntings on the Pier
Snow Buntings on the Pier

We found the first Snow Bunting was in the grass and mesh along the right side of the pier just before it widens at the end. The other two were in the grass and mesh along in the wide circular area at the end. We didn’t see the fourth one but it may have been somewhere in the rocks, as people have seen them there as well.

Male Snow Buntings normally look only black and white, but in the winter even the males show shades of brown like the females. According to All About Birds, “Although breeding and nonbreeding males look quite different, the Snow Bunting has only one molt each year and no true ‘Alternate Plumage.’ After the molt in the late summer, the male looks brownish with a brown and black striped back. Underneath the colored feather tips, the back feathers are pure black and the body feathers all are white. The male wears off all of the feather tips by actively rubbing them on snow, and he is immaculate white and jet black by the time breeding begins.” They are lovely little birds.

The Snow Buntings Blended in With the Grass
The Snow Buntings Blended in With the Grass

At the pier, the three birds we saw were fairly still; for the half hour or so that we were near them, they barely moved a few inches. The combination of their coloring and relative stillness let them blend into the grassy area and made them surprisingly difficult to see at first.They were aware of the birders coming to see them and take their pictures but didn’t seem the least bit bothered by people even when just five feet from them. They just continued to eat seeds from the dried grass as people came and went.

Snow Bunting
Snow Bunting

Snow Buntings are arctic birds that winter in Canada and the northern United States. While they do occasionally show up in Maryland in the winter, they are not common here. We would never had known they were around if we weren’t part of a group of Maryland birders on Facebook. Usually you can count on someone there to alert fellow local birders of interesting birds in the area and they’ll often post pictures of them as well which are fun to see, even if you can’t get out to see the birds yourself. It’s worth seeking out online groups like this in your area.

To learn more about Snow Buntings, check out the Snow Bunting page on All About Birds.

Nancie

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