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 Lapland Bunting - Fact File

Lapland Bunting
Winter female (left), winter male

Calcarius lapponicus
Mainly a scarce winter visitor to to the east coast.
In winter on saltmarsh and coastal fields and pasture.

Cheek markings, rusty wing panel and diagnostic flight call identify. Males' breeding plumage (rarely seen here) is striking with black head and breast.

15.5cm (6")

Lapland Bunting

Nowadays, Lapland buntings make fairly frequent visits to our East Anglian beaches and adjoining wastelands between and middle of September and the end of November, as birds of passage lingering for a while to feed on weed seeds with other visitors from the far north, such as snow buntings and shorelarks.

They seldom linger here during the winter and only very rarely drop in during their return migration in spring. Until 1892, when considerable flocks invaded Norfolk and Suffolk, they had scarcely ever been seen in East Anglia or elsewhere in Britain; but from that year onwards their migratory habits changed and they are now seen almost every autumn.

In this respect they have behaved in much the same way as shorelarks, while waxwings also have become much more frequent visitors from Scandinavia in the same period. Lapland buntings breed on the rolling circumpolar tundras and mossy moors north of the Baltic and across Siberia eastwards to Greenland.

It is possible that they nested also in this country ten thousand and more years ago, when ice ages affected Britain and dwarf Arctic willows flourished here in Norfolk and Suffolk.

There visitors have the streaky brown plumage of sparrows and reed buntings, but in both sexes a conspicuous, rusty patch behind the head is distinctive. The male in breeding plumage has a velvety black head and chest, much like a cock reed-bunting, but with the addition of a bold white stripe running from above the eye to the almost brick-coloured nape.

They are ground birds, with very long hind toes and claws, like those of skylarks, and they have a habit of running about like wagtails, though without flicking their tails. They utter short, sweet whistling call-notes as they feed together in friendly flocks and when a little excited, they preface the musical 'teeu' with chittering or ticking phrases.

In Norfolk they are to be seen most regularly in the neighbourhood of Cley and Blakeney, on the landward slopes of shingle banks and on rough grassy ground behind.

At home in the far north, they rear their families in great haste while the land enjoys its brief sunny respite; the eggs are incubated and the fledglings weaned in less than a month.

Michael J. Seago

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Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.