My 200th Bird ID

I identified my 200th bird species recently.  I am tickled by this naturalist milestone, though it wasn't a goal I was working towards or anything.  I don't have any specific goals when it comes to birding.  I just love birds.  Period.  They're so fascinating and beautiful and smart.  And they're everywhere which makes them an especially satisfying variety of wildlife to enjoy.  I can enjoy birds wherever I find myself, from an urban parking lot to designated wilderness areas.  It is great!

Over the years Matt and I have ID'd a majority of the birds that consistently hang around or pass through town on their migrations.  These days if we add a new bird to the Life List its often when we're traveling.  The diminutive Inca Dove we saw bobbing over the gravel while we strolled through a park in Arizona.  The Cape May Warbler I saw take a dainty little drink while I was tromping through a riparian area in Minnesota.  Matt missed that one--and the Rose-breasted Grosbeak, too.  He was golfing with his family.  There was also the abundant Magnificent Frigatebirds over the Cabo San Lucas harbor.   Still, even with those absent, I suspect Matt's Life List is in the 190s.

A non-breeding male Snow Bunting.  Photo from Cornell's All About Bird guide.

My 200th species is the aptly named Snow Bunting.  I say "aptly named" because this is a bird that likes to breed in the Arctic Circle and then head south to places like Alberta and Montana where the winters are...milder.  I cracked up telling Matt about it.  Imagine...a bird that thinks a stone's throw from the Canadian border is a balmy enough place to pass the winter.   In addition, both male and female done snowy white feathers for breeding season, the male much more so than the female.

My mom and I passed a flock of them in the wheat stubble that spread to the horizon on either side of the road leading up to my Grandparent's farm on my recent visit up north.  The sparrow-sized birds were virtually invisible in the snow-dusted field until they took to the air by the hundreds.  Then their black-and-white wing contrast made them stand out clear as day!

A flock of Snow Buntings.  Photo from Cornell's All About Bird guide.

I had no camera, no binoculars, no field guide.  Of course.  

[Lesson learned.  My binoculars are small enough that they should always get packed when I'm traveling any place.  I don't know why that hadn't occurred to me previously.]

I stopped the car and waited until the birds settled over the field again, straining to the limits of my vision for detail.  A few landed on the road allowing me a slightly closer view.  I knew that I'd never seen this bird before, but needed more detail if I was going to try and make a proper identification.  With patience, I got a fairly good look...albeit from a good distance.

The Snow Buntings proved pretty easy to ID in the end.  Given their size, physical appearance, and location given the season there weren't a lot of other potential candidates.  My preferred bird book is the National Geographic Field Guide to Birds of North America.  I hadn't packed that though so I used my favorite online resource instead, Cornell's All About Birds

A non-breeding male Snow Bunting.  Photo from Cornell's All About Bird guide.

I'm always pleased when the behaviors described by the field guide is nearly identical to what I saw.

Here's the description from All About Birds:  

Cold and dark winter days come alive with the flurry of black-and-white Snow Buntings tumbling in flight across barren fields and lakeshores. These restless birds flock up by the hundreds in winter, scattering across Canada and the United States. Snow Buntings breed in the high Arctic among rocky crevices where their crisp white plumage blends in with the snowy landscape. In the winter they acquire rusty tones that help them blend in with their winter homes of bare ground and crop stubble.

Watching them whirl across the sky was mighty impressive.  Their black and white contrast to a landscape of winter grey made their collective grace and fluidity so abundantly visible.  It was beautiful.  I didn't realize it was a birding milestone for me at the time.  That was just a little bonus I discovered later when I added it to the list.  

I wonder what my 201st bird will be...


  1. CONGRATULATIONS! WOW Beth...that is so awesome...and you'll never believe this but I just posted this morning about my Bird I'm going to go back to that post and link to your post...haha...we sure are like-minded...
    ~Have a lovely day!

    1. That really was some swell avian synchronicity! Hooray for the birds! And birdnerds!


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