While seeing Snow Buntings in southeast Michigan isn’t uncommon in winter, seeing one relatively close by before it flies off with a flock of dozens of birds is unusual.
Which is why I was excited to find this Snow Bunting foraging for food with several Song Sparrows on a snow-covered grassy ridge.
The small group seemed oblivious to my vehicle, as I stopped in the parking lot to take several photos near the frozen marsh off the Detroit River.
I saw my first Snow Buntings this season off Lake Erie in mid-November.
A flock of over 60 birds that seemed to take flight every 20 seconds or so kept me searching the flock to see if any Lapland Longspurs or Horned Larks joined the group.
Notice the rust-colored patches on the head, cheek, and around their shoulders?
Those are non-breeding colors for the male Snow Bunting.
Which can make it hard to find Snow Buntings when they’re foraging on snow-covered harvested corn fields; their colors match the white snow and corn stubble in the fields.
During breeding season, the male Snow Bunting is white with a black back.
Only this week did I learn the Snow Bunting doesn’t molt.
The rust-colored patches on the feather tips are worn down when the male Snow Bunting rubs their belly and heads on the snow in their breeding grounds.