Vol. 2, No. 4 – The Snowflake

Snow Bunting of Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

Snow Bunting of Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

From col. F. M. Woodruff. Copyrighted by
Nature Study Pub. Co., 1897, Chicago.

THE SNOWFLAKE

Bobbie didn’t want to go to school that morning, and he looked very cheerfully out upon the cloudy sky and falling flakes of snow, pretending to shiver a little when the angry gusts of wind blew the snow sharply into people’s faces.

“I guess it’s better for little boys like me to stay at home in such weather as this, mamma,” said he, all the while hoping the snow would soon be deep enough for him to ride down the hill on his sled.

Before his mamma could reply Bobbie gave a cry of delight which drew her at once to the window.

As from the snow clouds, on bold and rapid wing, came whirling down an immense flock of birds, white, streaked with gray and brown, chirping, calling to one another, the whole flock settling upon the open places in a field in front of Bobbie’s house.

“Oh, the dear little things,” said Bobbie, “they looked like little white angels dropping out of the clouds.”

“Those are our winter neighbors,” said his mamma, “the Snow Buntings or Snowflakes—they visit us only in winter, their summer homes being away up North near the Arctic Circle in the region of perpetual snow.”

“Do they build their nests in trees?” asked Bobbie, who never tired hearing about the birds.

“There are no trees in that bleak region, only scrubby bushes,” was the answer. “They build a thick, deep grassy nest, well lined with rabbit fur, or Snow Owl feathers, which they tuck under a ledge of rock or bunch of grass.”

“They chirrup just like sparrows,” reflected Bobbie, “can they sing?”

“They only sing when up in their Northern home. There a male Snowflake will sing as merrily as his cousin the Goldfinch.”

“They look like Sparrows, too,” said Bobbie, “only whiter and softer, I think.”

“In the summer they are nearly all white, the brown edges having worn away, leaving them pure black and white. They are very shy and suspicious, and at the least sound you will see them all whirl aloft braving the blasts of winter like little heroes.”

“Well,” said Bobbie, after a while, “if those little soft white birds can go about in such weather, I guess I can too,” and in a few minutes with high rubber boots, and a fur cap drawn over his ears, off trudged Bobbie like another little hero to school.


THE SNOWFLAKE.

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HIS charming bird comes to us at a time when his presence may be truly welcomed and appreciated, nearly all our summer companions of the feathered tribe having departed. He might not inappropriately be named the great Snowflake, though in winter he wears a warm brown cloak, with black stripes, brown collar, and a brown and white vest. In summer, however, he is snow white, with black on the back, wings, and tail. He lives all over northern North America, and in the United States as far south as Georgia.

About the first of November, flocks of Snowflakes may be seen arriving, the males chanting a very low and somewhat broken, but very pleasant song. Some call him White Snowbird, and Snow Bunting, according to locality. The birds breed throughout the Arctic regions of both continents, the National Museum at Washington possessing nests from the most northern points of Alaska, (Point Barrow), and from Labrador, as well as from various intermediate localities.

These birds are famous seed eaters, and are rarely found in trees. They should be looked for on the ground, in the air, for they are constantly seeking new feeding grounds, in the barn-yard, or about the hay stack, where seeds are plentiful. They also nest on the ground, building a deep, grassy nest, lined with rabbit fur or feathers, under a projecting ledge of rock or thick bunch of grass. It seems curious that few persons readily distinguish them from their sparrow cousins, as they have much more white about them than any other color. Last November multitudes of them invaded Washington Park, settling on the ground to feed, and flying up and scurrying away to successive pastures of promise. With their soft musical voices and gentle manners, they were a pleasing feature of the late Autumn landscape. “Chill November’s surly blast” making “field and forest bare,” had no terrors for them, but rather spread before them a feast of scattered seeds, winnowed by it from nature’s ripened abundance.

The Snowflakes disappear with the melting of their namesake, the snow. They are especially numerous in snowy seasons, when flocks of sometimes a thousand are seen in the old fields and meadows. It is unusual, though it has been known to breed in the Northern States. In July, 1831, Audubon found it nesting in the White Mountains, and Dr. J. A. Allen notes a pair as breeding near Springfield, Mass. The Arctic regions are its nesting place however, and these birds were probably belated on their return migration. The Snowflake and Shorelark are so much alike in habits, that the two species occasionally associate. Ernest E. Thompson says: “Apparently the Snowflakes get but little to eat, but in reality they always find enough to keep them in health and spirits, and are as fat as butter balls. In the mid-winter, in the far north, when the thermometer showed thirty degrees below zero, and the chill blizzard was blowing on the plains, I have seen this brave little bird gleefully chasing his fellows, and pouring out, as he flew, his sweet voluble song with as much spirit as ever Skylark has in the sunniest days of June.”

Summary:

SNOWFLAKE.Plectrophenax nivalis. Other name: “Snow Bunting.”

Range—Northern parts of northern hemisphere, breeding in the arctic regions; in North America, south in Winter into the northern United States, irregularly to Georgia, southern Illinois, and Kansas.

Nest—Of grasses, rootlets, and moss, lined with finer grasses and feathers, on the ground.

Eggs—Four to seven, pale bluish white, thinly marked with umber or heavily spotted or washed with rufous-brown.


Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) by Ray

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) by Ray

Like the cold of snow in time of harvest Is a faithful messenger to those who send him, For he refreshes the soul of his masters. (Proverbs 25:13 NKJV)

Lee’s Addition:

The Snow Bunting is another of the Lord’s creation given the ability to live up in one of the coldest parts of this world.

The Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), sometimes colloquially called a snowflake, is a passerine bird in the longspur family Calcariidae – Longspurs, Snow Buntings. It is an arctic specialist, with a circumpolar Arctic breeding range throughout the northern hemisphere. There are small isolated populations on a few high mountain tops south of the Arctic region, including the Cairngorms in central Scotland and the Saint Elias Mountains on the southern Alaska-Yukon border, and also Cape Breton Highlands.

It is fairly large and long-winged for a bunting, 15–18 cm long and with a wingspan of 32–38 cm, and weighing 26–50 g. In flight, it is easily identified by its large white wing patches. The breeding male is unmistakable, with all white plumage and a black back; the breeding female is grey-black where the male is solid black. In winter plumage, both sexes are mottled pale ginger, blackish and white above, and pale ginger and white below, with the males having more white than the females. The bill is yellow with a black tip, all black in summer males. Unlike most passerines, it has feathered tarsi, an adaptation to its harsh environment. No other passerine can winter as far north as this species apart from the Common Raven.

The call is a distinctive rippling whistle, “per,r,r,rit” and the typical Plectrophenax warble “hudidi feet feet feew hudidi”.

Snow Bunting Song by Ryan P O’Donnell – (xeno-canto).


It builds its bulky nest in rock crevices. The eggs are blue-green, spotted brown, and hatch in 12–13 days, and the young are already ready to fly after a further 12–14 days.
(Wikipedia with editing)

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) by Daves BirdingPix

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) by Daves BirdingPix

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:18 KJV)

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Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

The above article is an article in the monthly serial for October 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

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(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – The Slate-Colored Junco

The Previous Article – The Wood Pewee

 

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