The UK’s breeding population of snow buntings has been revealed for the first time after scientists searched some of Scotland’s highest peaks for the birds.
Globally snow buntings, which weigh no more than a golf ball and have a striking snowy plumage, breed around the Arctic from Scandinavia to Alaska, Canada and Greenland.
While thousands of snow buntings overwinter all around the UK, they only breed in this country near the tops of the highest mountains in Scotland, where the breeding population has now been estimated at 60 pairs.
The numbers have been revealed after scientists and volunteers undertook “challenging” surveys of mountain peaks in the Cairngorms and the Highlands, including Ben Nevis and Ben Alder, to listen for singing males.
The survey, conducted in June 2011, involved searching 58 sites over an area of 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) and analysis has now been published revealing there are an estimated 60 pairs of breeding birds.
The figures, gathered through the fieldwork led by the RSPB and Scottish Natural Heritage, will provide a baseline to help conservationists see if changes to their mountain homes are affecting the species.