First Report of a Snow Bunting × Lapland Longspur Hybrid
Keywords:snow bunting, Plectrophenax nivalis, Lapland longspur, Calcarius lapponicus, avian hybrid, Arctic passerine
In late April 2011, photographs of an apparent male snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) × Lapland longspur (Calcarius lapponicus) hybrid were taken at St. Lewis Inlet, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada, while the bird was foraging in a mixed flock of both species along a previously documented spring migratory route. As far as we are aware, this is the first hybridization of these species documented anywhere in the world. The bird was identified as a male on the basis of longspur nape coloration, and it appears to have the head, beak, and back coloration and patterning of a Lapland longspur, but the chin, chest and throat, and overall appearance of a snow bunting. Although our research team has banded more than 50 000 birds of both species over the past 30 years across the latitudinal range of both species, we have never observed such a hybrid. While these Arctic-breeding species overlap spatially and temporally during wintering, migration, and breeding, longspurs and buntings have distinct sexual characters and breed in different ecological niches, which may account for the reproductive isolation or low rates of hybridization of these species. While we were unable to conduct detailed morphological or genetic comparisons on this particular individual for phylogenic interpretation, this report highlights the importance of reporting field observations that may indicate ecological changes affecting the hybridization rates of these inaccessible Arctic species.