The Birds are Back in Town!

Feathers puffed against the cold, a female McKay’s bunting warms herself in the radiant heat from a rock. Daily highs are reaching the teens and even the twenties now, and today’s sunshine stretched from sunrise at 7:00 AM to sunset at 11:13 PM. The midnight sun is back, and so are the birds! 
Gripped in the heart of winter, an Arctic landscape can be one of the quietest places on earth. Save for a few hardy ravens that manage to make a living off dumpsters and the local garbage facility, most birds head for warmer climes. There are no tree branches for the wind to whistle through, no dry grass to rustle, and on the coldest nights, even the village dogs huddle up and stay mum. Dark settles in, and the waiting begins.
For the past couple of weeks, we’ve increasingly been hearing the welcome twitters and chirps of flocks of the snow birds of the north, snow buntings and McKay’s buntings. It’s been weeks since the last windstorm, and these days we can feel the warmth of the sun on our faces. It feels… wonderful.
I’ve always admired passerines – songbirds. These snow buntings have become some of my favorites.

105 thoughts on “The Birds are Back in Town!

    • That’s a question we’ve been asking as well. All we can tell you is that a few ravens hang around all winter – making their “grawk” sound from the tops of buildings, flying overhead. We have a developed a real respect for these birds. They kind of redefine the phrase “tough old bird.”

    • These are birds of the Arctic. They breed on two small, remote islands in the Bering Sea. We’ve seen them in Shishmaref and Point Hope, two small villages in the Arctic region of Alaska. These photos were taken in Shishmaref. In the larger flock, some of the birds are snow buntings, and some are McKay’s buntings. McKay’s tend to be lighter in color than snow buntings. They are mainly seed eaters.

  1. How beautiful! I had never seen those birds before…they are so cute! Thanks for sharing those pictures with us! 🙂

    • Thanks Mikalee. We used to really enjoy feeding birds (when we lived further south.) Look for a post in the near future about the birds we attracted to our feeders in Sacramento. You’re lucky to have them nesting, too!

  2. I lived in Fairbanks in ’81 and ’82 … it is a beautiful place and well worth a visit. I think the neatest thing I’ve ever seen (as far as wildlife) is a moose. Boy, was it big. Scary, too! If you’re ever in Fairbanks, go by the Pumphouse Restaurant — great place.

    • We were in Fairbanks two summers ago and were really impressed. What a great town/city! Didn’t make it to the Pumphouse, but will keep it in mind for next time. (We’re hoping to go there to see the Northern Lights one winter.)

      • The Northern Lights are spectacular! If you go to Fairbanks, go during Golden Days, I think it’s in July. It’s fun festive time to be there.

  3. Beautiful-looking birds! 🙂 Here in Finland most of the birds also go south for the winter, but some stay, and of those, many depend on the feed people put out for them. They are very impressive, indeed…

    Thanks for sharing the photos, but also for a very nicely written text to go with them! 🙂

    • One of the very cool things about doing a blog like this is hearing from people in other countries. We’re becoming really interested in visiting Finland. There are some interesting similarities between Finland and Alaska.

  4. Great photos of the birds! They are cute! Glad it is warming up…they certainly look comfortable..and well-fed!

  5. I forget that outside of my sub tropical oasis, the world experiences harsh extremes in climate. Your post just reminded me that as I head into winter here in the southern hemisphere, I have nothing to complain about in comparison to your experiences. Thank you for sharing.

  6. We get the Snow Buntings here in Ottawa in the winter (yes, this is “south” to them!). They are one of my favourite winter birds; when I see large flocks of 100+ birds whirling up into the air they make me think of specks of salt of pepper! Take care of them, for me, until next winter!

  7. OMG the imagery here is absolutely beautiful it just makes me that more anxious to get out there and see it for myself!

      • We’re having a problematic season owing mostly to the new pair, presumably very young at least on the part of the falcon. As my livelihood depends on their fertility, & the survival of the species is my #1 priority, this is an emotional rollercoaster. Let’s hope that any eggs there will produce some healthy fuzzies for us down the road. Your lovely blog is a perfect antidote to my day!

  8. Beautiful photo – beautiful bird. They are such a fantastic shape, like little china birds. I love their faces, they look as though they have little blush cheeks. So cute!

    • This year we are in Point Hope, Alaska, which is 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. The photo of these birds was taken near our previous home in Sishmaref, which, like Point Hope, is a small Eskimo village.

  9. Pingback: Snow Bunting « Sesame Azuki

  10. I love these birds. We sometimes see them where I live in Norfolk, UK on the beach where they have retreated south from Scandinavia for the winter months. A real reminder of colder climes, to me they look like sparrows made of sugar.

    • Gale force winds (40 to 50 mph) are common, and house-shaking storm winds in the 60+ mph range occur somewhat regularly during the winter. This past winter, we had three days of hurricane force winds which effectively shut down the village. Most people had to hole up in the school. See our post “Epic Storm Hits Point Hope, Alaska,” November 10, 2011 for more information about that storm. On the other hand, we went for a 6-mile walk today out to look at the whaling camps, and although it was snowing (and beautiful) there was only a light breeze blowing.

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