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McKay's Bunting Plectrophenax hyperboreus
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information

This species has been downlisted from Near Threatened because its population is estimated to be larger than previously thought and because there are not thought to be any plausible threats that could cause a rapid or very rapid decline in a short time period. It is now listed as Least Concern on the basis that it is not thought to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under any of the Red List criteria.

Taxonomic source(s)
AOU. 1998. Check-list of North American birds. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Sibley, C. G.; Monroe, B. L. 1990. Distribution and taxonomy of birds of the world. Yale University Press, New Haven, USA.

Distribution and population
Plectrophenax hyperboreus breeds on the Hall and St Matthew islands (totalling 300 km2) in the Bering Sea, U.S.A., and occasionally on St Lawrence and probably St Paul islands. It winters along the west Alaska coast from Kotzebue to the tip of the Alaska Peninsula, irregularly on the south coast of Alaska, occasionally to the Aleutian Islands and accidentally in British Columbia, Canada, and Washington and Oregon, U.S.A. The population had been estimated to number only c.2,500 individuals; however, Matsuoka and Johnson (2008) estimated there to be 27,500-35,400 birds in the population, based on surveys conducted across its restricted breeding range on St Matthew and Hall islands.

Population justification
Matsuoka and Johnson (2008) have estimated there to be 27,500-35,400 individuals in the population, based on surveys conducted across its restricted breeding range on St Matthew and Hall islands. This is assumed here to equate to c.18,400-23,700 mature individuals.

Trend justification
The species is currently thought to be increasing.

On the breeding grounds, it inhabits vegetated and rocky tundra, mostly in coastal lowlands, and typically nests on shingle beaches. It winters on coastal marshes, shingle beaches and agricultural fields with exposed vegetation.

Although under no immediate threat, it would be susceptible to predation by introduced mammals, such as rats Rattus spp. or weasels Mustela spp. Red foxes Vulpes vulpes have recently established a breeding population on St Matthew, after they were first observed there in 1997, and as of 2012 they had completely suppressed or displaced the native Arctic foxes V. lagopus (H. Renner in litt. 2013). It has been hypothesised that McKay's Bunting will be little affected by the shift from Arctic to red foxes on St. Matthew Island, because of the bunting's presence and abundance over the entire island and its use of diverse and predominately secure habitats for nesting in crevices (H. Renner in litt. 2013).

Conservation Actions Underway
This species's range islands are in part protected by the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge (Matsuoka and Johnson 2008). The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service visits the islands every 5-10 years, but this is typically timed for seabird studies and thus usually too late to study nesting McKay's Buntings. (H. Renner in litt. 2013).
Conservation Actions Proposed
A survey of the breeding grounds is needed to determine population density and to assess whether populations are stable or threatened. Ensure continued protection of the breeding grounds.

IUCN. 2012. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (ver. 2012.1). Available at: (Accessed: 19 June 2012).

Lyon, B.; Montgomerie, R. 1995. Snow Bunting and McKay's Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis and Plectrophenax hyperboreus). In: Poole, A.; Gill, F. (ed.), The birds of North America, Nos. 198-199, pp. 1-28. The Academy of Natural Sciences, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.

Matsuoka, S. M.; Johnson, J. A. 2008. Using a multimodel approach to estimate the population size of McKay's Buntings. Condor 110(2): 371-376.

Rich, T.D.; Beardmore, C.J.; Berlanga, H.; Blancher, P.J.; Bradstreet, M.S.W.; Butcher, G.S.; Demarest, D.W.; Dunn, E.H.; Hunter, W.C.; Inigo-Elias, E.E.; Martell, A.M.; Panjabi, A.O.; Pashley, D.N.; Rosenberg, K.V.; Rustay, C.M.; Wendt, J.S.; Will, T.C. 2004. Partners in flight: North American landbird conservation plan. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY.

Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Bird, J., Capper, D., Isherwood, I., Khwaja, N., O'Brien, A., Symes, A. & Taylor, J.

Renner, H.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Plectrophenax hyperboreus. Downloaded from on 21/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 21/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Least Concern
Family Emberizidae (Buntings, American sparrows and allies)
Species name author Ridgway, 1884
Population size 18400-23700 mature individuals
Population trend Increasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 5,400 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species