Mission: To promote the appreciation of wildlife and increase harmony between humanity and nature.

On Instagram: @unionbaywatch

Monday, February 13, 2012

McKay's Bunting - Feeding

Yesterday, Marcus Roening and I went in search of the McKay's Bunting. Since there have been no known sightings on Union Bay this required some travel. The McKay's Bunting is extremely rare (a few thousand birds) and they usually reside on two, small Alaskan Islands. Luckily, one bird had been sighted on Damon Point south of Ocean Shores. Having the opportunity to see a McKay's Bunting in Washington state is a very special treat.

Marcus is a good friend who also happens to be a birder with over 35 years experience.
Along the way Marcus pointed out an Emperor Goose, a Greater White-Fronted Goose, a Harlequin Duck, a Peregrine Falcon, a half-a-dozen Snowy Owls and many, many other birds as well. Thank you, Marcus!

After a two to three hour drive and a brisk morning walk to the far end of Damon Point (beyond the Snowy Owls) we found  small group of Marcus's birder friends. They were quietly observing the small, white bunting as it bounced in and out of sight among the low sandy dunes which were somewhat sparsely covered with beach grass. 
After watching the somewhat sleepy, Snowy Owls the McKay's Bunting seemed like an amazing bundle of energy. It seldom stopped moving. Usually it stayed on the ground although occasionally it would leap up to a grab a seed of grass. I do not remember seeing it fly.

Afterwords when I got home and began looking closely at the photos I was surprised to see a number of feeding behaviors that escaped me at the time.

For instance in this photo if you look closely the bunting seems to have caught a small grass-colored inch worm.

In this shot the bird appears to be pulling on the stalk of the grass. I suspect there must have been some form of food on the grass that attracted it.

In this case the bunting is pulling a seed off the head of grass. 

In this case I believe the bird is actually holding a seed in it's beak.

In this final example the bird is sitting on the head of grass to hold it down while it feeds. You can clearly see the leftover husks lay on the ground behind the bird.

In this last shot the bird does not appear to be feeding, but I do wonder what it is thinking.

What  a beautiful little bird.

Until next time,


Ps: By the way when I get the chance I will be posting larger copies of these and a few other McKay's Bunting photos at:



  1. I'm in the process of creating an online "Field Guide to the Birds of Vancouver Island' and hoping that you might be generous enough to donate your excellent photos of the McKay's Bunting to the project. The pages thus far completed are stored at http://picasaweb.google.com/pat.mary.taylor with links from there to the text and songs held elsewhere. My email is warbler2020@gmail.com If you are interested please leave your website address and a note of permission.
    Thank you Keith Taylor, Victoria BC Canada

  2. Thanks so much for your report and photos. We are regularly seeing McKay's Buntings here in Middle Tennessee the last couple of weeks, unbelievable though it may seem. If anything your report has helped confirmed it.

    1. If you have photos please send them in and I will ask the bunting experts to validate which type of bunting you have seen. I will add your photos to the end of the post for comparison purposes. My email is ldhubbell at comcast dot com, with the "at" and the "dot" appropriately replaced.