The McKay’s Bunting is migratory. It leaves the breeding grounds in early October to reach the Alaskan coasts, after a stopover at Nunivak Island. Then, it disperses S and E along the coast.
The return migration starts in early March, although numerous birds remain in the wintering grounds until early April.
This species is sometimes reported S to Aleutians and S coastal Alaska, and also in extreme NE Russia.  

The McKay’s Bunting has swift flight with series of rapid wingbeats interspersed with short periods of glides.

Nest-building and laying occur in late June. The McKay’s Bunting builds the nest in a protected hole or some cavity, usually a rocky crevice in cliff, among or below rocks, or in hole in driftwood.
The structure is a shallow cup made with sedges, grasses, lichens and stems. The cup is made inside with mosses, lichens and sedges. There is a lining made with soft materials including finer sedges or grasses, fur or feathers, depending on the location.

The female lays 3-5 pale green eggs with pale brown dotting. The female incubates during 12 days (10 to 16 days), and the young fledge two weeks after hatching.
The McKay’s Bunting may hybridize with the Snow Bunting, as the two species are very closely related.

The McKay’s Bunting is considered “rare”. It is threatened by introduced predators such as rats and weasels, but also by Red foxes recently established on St Matthew from which the native Arctic fox has disappeared. But this bunting is protected against foxes by using cavities for nesting.
The population was estimated to number 18,400/23,700 mature individuals in 2008, and it is suspected to be increasing.
The McKay’s Bunting is currently evaluated as Least Concern.

Fr: Bruant blanc - Plectrophane blanc
Ang: McKay's Bunting
All: Beringschneeammer
Esp: Escribano de McKay
Ita: Zigolo di McKay
Nd: McKays Sneeuwgors
Sd: beringsnösparv


Ken Havard
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Text by Nicole Bouglouan


HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD Vol 16 by Josep del Hoyo- Andrew Elliot-David Christie – Lynx Edicions – ISBN: 9788496553781

Buntings and Sparrows Par Clive Byers,Urban Olsson,Jon Curson – Editeur : A&C Black, 2013 – ISBN: 1408189062, 9781408189061 – 264 pages

Avibase (Denis Lepage)

Birdlife International

HBW Alive


Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia

The Birds of North America online

What Bird-The ultimate Bird Guide (Mitchell Waite)

SORA Searchable Ornithological Research Archive (Blair O. Wolf)  

South Dakota Birds and Birding – (Terry L. Sohl)


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McKay’s Bunting
Plectrophenax hyperboreus

Passeriformes Order – Calcariidae Family

The McKay’s Bunting is said to be the whitest of all North American songbirds. This bird is found in some islands of the Bering Sea where it nests in coastal tundra habitats. It spends the winter on W and SW Alaskan coasts.
It forages on the ground and in low vegetation, usually in small flocks outside of breeding season.
The McKay’s Bunting could be threatened by introduced mammals on its breeding islands. It has restricted range, but the population is currently suspected to be increasing.

Length: 16-18 cm
Wingspan: 30-33 cm
Weight: 54 g (38-62 g)

The McKay’s Bunting male in breeding plumage has white plumage overall, except for partly black tertials and primary tips, whereas the central two pairs of rectrices are partly black. The tail is notched and fairly short. Some scapular feathers may have black centres.
The bill is black. The eyes are dark brown. Legs and feet are dark brown to black.
The non-breeding male is slightly washed with rufous on crown, ear-coverts and breast.


The female in breeding plumage resembles male, but she has dusky speckles on crown and black streaks on back. The alula is black. The central rectrices have more black, while other tail feathers have dark inner webs.
The non-breeding female may appear darker than non-breeding male.  

The juvenile is greyish-brown from head to breast, with paler throat and moustachial stripe. The upperparts are blackish with broad, buffish feather edges. Wings and tail show the same white pattern as in adults, but less extensive. The flanks are pinkish and the belly is white. The bill is yellowish.

The 1st winter male resembles non-breeding adult, with more rusty on tertials and upperparts, and more black on wings and tail.
The 1st winter female is darker and duller than adult non-breeding female, with less white.

The McKay’s Bunting breeds mainly on Hall I and St Matthew I in the Bering Sea, and more rarely on Pribilofs (St Paul) and St Lawrence.
It winters along the coast of W and SW Alaska, and there are some rare records from Chukotskiy Peninsula in extreme NE Russia.   

The McKay’s Bunting breeds on shores including shingle beaches and rocky talus slopes, also in inland tundra where it is described as common.
It winters in coastal marshes, beaches and cultivated fields.

The McKay’s Bunting’s voice is very similar to that of the Snow Bunting. An abrasive “tew”, a soft rattle and a descending whistle “cheew” are given as calls.
The song is described as a low, loud, trilled, flute-like warbling.

The McKay’s Bunting probably feeds on a mixed diet of insects, spiders, seeds and buds during summer, but in winter, seeds from weeds and grasses are its main food. Tiny crustaceans may be taken along shorelines.

It often feeds in flocks outside of breeding season. It forages mainly on or near the ground, including in low vegetation. It searches for food by walking and running along the ground.

The pair formation takes place in May. The male displays on the breeding grounds, flying in a wide circle while singing.
This species usually nests in protected cavities to avoid predation by foxes. They are probably monogamous.