Snow Bunting - Photo by Ron Payne

Snow Buntings arrive in the Champlain Valley from Arctic breeding sites in late October or early November. Most winters they are seen regularly in Addison County’s grasslands and agricultural fields in flocks of 100 or more.

But some Snow Buntings require a bit of trial and error before ending up in the right place. Each November, a few land on our gravel driveway in Ripton, which is 1200 feet above and at least four miles east of the Champlain lowlands. They stay only one to four days. Usually only one or two birds come, but this November we saw eight. All were gone within four days. I have seen them on or near our driveway on eight of the last fifteen years. Friends within a mile of our house have had up to three Snow Buntings on their driveway on 31 October three times in the last decade.

The Snow Buntings seem to be foraging for grit on our driveway. Grit is plentiful on Ripton’s gravel roads and driveways but less so in the Champlain lowlands. Perhaps their brief but now almost predictable presence can be explained by their need for grit to help their gizzards grind the small seeds they normally eat.

– Warren King