Small bunting with an attractive contrasting head pattern: black crown with red-brown central stripe and pale eyering. Rufous cheeks bordered by narrow black lines framing the eyes. In the nonbreeding season, less bright overall but white wingbars more conspicuous. Breeds in taiga forests and open tundra with scattered birches and willows, often near water; song is a pleasant two- or three-part series of bright, buzzy warbled notes. Winters in various open habitats, including fields, brushy roadside ditches, and gardens. Often attracts attention by its sharp clicking "zick" call note.