Lapland Bunting

Origins and American Lapland Buntings

There is a remarkable  arrival of large numbers of Lapland Buntings currently taking place in N.W. Europe

The birds seem to be coming from a Northwest vector: Greenland and NE Canada.

1st winter female Lapland Bunting. Flamborough, East Yorkshire, 16 September 2005

I came across this very tame  bird at Flamborough Head 5 years ago. It was on a day when we saw 2,721 (approximately!) Sooty Shearwaters (a British record?) in a period of strong NW winds. At the time it got me musing on the origins of Lapland Buntings in Britain.

So with the current movement of ‘Lap Bunts’ I am posting the article, originally published in Birding World, hoping it might be of some help in the discussion, (BW vol. 20, no. 5, 2007 -see also follow-up discussion Birding World, vol. 20, no. 8, 2007)

Roger Riddington and I also looked at all the trapped and measured Lapland Buntings over a c.50 year period on Fair Isle, hoping that discrete biometrics might prove the occurrence of subcalcaratus – the North American and Greenland form of Lapland Bunting. We could find no conclusive proof. I think we came  away from looking into the subject thinking the 1-2ish? mm difference in wing chord might not even be reliably recorded (vagaries of measuring techniques and the ‘human factor’ etc) and perhaps subcalcaratus was not really ‘doable’. Maybe someone can prove us wrong – be very happy if they did!

No matter though – I remain convinced Lapland Buntings from subcalcaratus range are a normal feature of early autumn migration in NW Europe, even if exceptional numbers are involved in 2010.

The article with photos can be found here

1st winter female Lapland Bunting. Flamborough, East Yorkshire, 16 September 2005

British Birds:  July 1954.  An article on North Donegal (Gibbs, Nisbet, Redman) states of Lapland Bunting:

“The paucity of records [in north Donegal] makes it necessary to add that there is no evidence to show that the numbers recorded were exceptional or even unusual.  The Principal Keeper at Inishtrahull, after seeing and hearing the birds, told us they occurred annually, and the experiences of Eagle Clarke (1912) at St Kilda and the Flannan Isles, together with Williamson’s (1953) interpretation of Lapland Bunting arrivals at Fair Isle as representing direct migration from Greenland give every reason to suppose that this species is an annual visitor, probably in some numbers, to this part of Ireland.”
In the same issue, there is an article dealing with ‘Photographic Studies …. Lapland Bunting.’  Written by I J Ferguson-Lees.  He says:
“The question of [Lap Bunt] origin has received a certain amount of attention recently and K Williamson and P Davis have between them given convincing arguments to suggest that a good proportion of the autumn immigrants come from Greenland.  It has usually been assumed that the British birds have come from Norway, but if this were so one might expect the Lapland Bunting to be a common migrant in southern Scandinavia.  This is not the case, for the vast north European population appears in the main to migrate south-east to winter in south-central Asia.”
Gibbs, Nisbet and Redman also noted the tameness of ‘Greenland’ birds versus Scandinavians: “Individual birds were extremely tame allowing approach to within ten feet and when disturbed would often only fly a short distance.  Our experiences on the east coast of the British Isles and south Scandinavia, with birds presumably of Scandinavian origin, have been very different.”

6 thoughts on “Lapland Bunting

    1. Martin Garner

      Hi John
      I personally think the Scilly Horned lark really was one – a North American bird- better than (at least more definitive) than my N Ireland bird (see list of references at bottom of Brian’s article). Ta for link to vismig group. as a result I have joined


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