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McKay's Bunting Plectrophenax hyperboreus

This species was thought to have a very small population confined to a small breeding range on just four islands, and is hence classified as Near Threatened. However, recent population estimates suggest the population size may be much greater than previously thought. If this is confirmed, the species may warrant downlisting to Least Concern.

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.

Population justification
The population is estimated to number 2,500 individuals, roughly equivalent to 1,600-1,700 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 devastation by any introduced rats Rattus spp., weasels Mustela spp. or foxes Vulpes spp..

Conservation Actions Underway
None are known. 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.

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.

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.

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

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2014) Species factsheet: Plectrophenax hyperboreus. Downloaded from on 11/07/2014. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2014) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 11/07/2014.

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 Near Threatened
Family Emberizidae (Buntings, American sparrows and allies)
Species name author Ridgway, 1884
Population size 1600-1700 mature individuals
Population trend Increasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 5,400 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species