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Winter Visitors

In winter months when Franklin County’s farm fields are blanketed in snow, it can be easy to see them as quiet places with little activity. This couldn’t be further from the truth. During this time, Vermont will receive small visitors from the North. Migrating from the far reaches of the High Arctic, two bird species -the Snow Bunting and the Horned Lark- arrive in large numbers to Northern Vermont’s open fields, roadsides, and lakeshores. 


Snow Bunting

The Snow Bunting is a small songbird that tends to have a white belly, a dark streaky back, and rusty patches on the face and chest during the non-breeding season. When in flight, Snow Buntings are easily distinguishable with bright white wings tipped with black. They’ll often fly in swirling, synchronized patterns over fields before landing. 



Horned Lark

The Horned Lark shares some similarities in appearance to the Snow Bunting. They are also small, brown songbirds that gather in larger flocks. Unlike the Bunting, male Horned Larks can have a bright yellow face with a dark eye mask and two feathers

sticking out from either side of their head that give the appearance of horns.


The diet for the Snow Bunting and the Horned Lark is largely comprised of seeds from grasses and flowering plants. Because of this, farm fields that implement natural buffers, grassed waterways, and pasture and hay planting serve a dual purpose. Not only do these practices help to reduce nutrient runoff and improve water quality, but they also serve as an important food source for both Snow Buntings and Horned Larks. This is just one example of how farming for better water and soil quality benefits not only the farmer but also the whole ecosystem. 


A Flock of Snow Buntings

To see both of these species in person, Franklin County has some great options. Recent sightings have been recorded at the  Missisquoi National Wildlife Refuge’s Visitor Center, as well as on nearby Tabor Road and Champlain Street. Around St Albans Bay, the fields bordering Maquam Shore Road and Dunsmore Road are likely places to spot them. In these areas be sure to look towards the ground as well as in the air, as that is where you’ll often find them foraging. The eBird website and app can help provide the most up-to-date information on sightings. 




Sources: 


Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (2024) Snow bunting overview. All About Birds. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Snow_Bunting/overview 


Cornell Lab of Ornithology. (2024). Horned Lark Overview. All About Birds. https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Horned_Lark/overview


Images:


Putneypics. (2019). DSC_0522[Photograph]. Flickr. https://bit.ly/DSC_0522


Ellingson, E. (2021). Horned Lark. [Photograph] Flickr. https://bit.ly/HornedLark


Inman, D. (2013). Snow Buntings. [Photograph] Flickr. https://bit.ly/SnowBuntings




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