A scion of one of the oldest families of Russian nobility, Buturlin spent most his life in Russia. He went to school in Simbirsk (modern Ulyanovsk) and studied jurisprudence in St. Petersburg, but his interest in zoology was so strong that he spent most of his career collecting specimens across Russia and Siberia and describing the results of his observations. Until 1892 he collected in the Volga region, then in the Baltic region; from 1900 to 1902 on the islands of Kolguyev and Novaya Zemlya. Between 1904 and 1906 he took part in an expedition to the Kolyma River in Siberia, and in 1909 he visited the Altay Mountains, and he made his final expedition in 1925 on the Chukchi Peninsula.
He published many important work on the taxonomy and distribution of the palaearctic birds, including:
- The Birds of the Kolguyev Island and Novaya Zemlya and the lower part of the Darna (1901)
- The Birds of the Simbirsk Government (1906)
- The Birds of the Yenisseisk District (1911, with Arkady Yakovlevich Tugarinov (1880–1948))
- A series of manuscripts over the birds of the far east (1909–1917)
- Complete Synopsis of the Birds of the USSR, in three volumes
- An article on his discovery the breeding places of Ross's Gull, Rhodostethia rosea in northeast Siberia
In 1918 he joined the zoological museum of the University of Moscow, and in 1924 he donated his collection of palaearctic birds.
In 1906 Buturlin became a foreign member of the British Ornithologists' Union; in 1907 he became a corresponding member of the American Ornithologists' Union. He was a pioneer in Russia of the study of the diversity of species and described more than 200 new species of bird.
- Кулики Российской Империи. Дружинина, Tula 1902.
- On the breeding-habits of the rosy gull and the pectoral sandpiper. London 1907.
- Систематические заметки о птицах Северного Кавказа. Machatschkala 1929.
- Определитель промысловых птиц. Советская Азия, Moskau 1933.
- Полный определитель птиц СССР. КИОЦ, Moskau 1934–1941.
- Что и как наблюдать в жизни птиц. 1934.
- Трубконозые птицы. КИОЦ, Moskau 1936.
- Дробовое ружье. 1937.
- Птицы. Moskow 1940.
- Potapov, E. 1990. Birds and brave man in the Arctic (Explorers of Polar deserts, Russo-Japanize war and ever mysterious Ross's Gull). - Birds International, v.2 N°3, p. 72-83.
- Borodina, O. E. & T. A. Gromova: Сергей Александрович Бутурлин. Ulyanovsk 2002.
- Kozlova, Mariia Mikhailovna & Mirzoëiìan, Eduard Nikolaevich: Сергей Александрович Бутурлин 1872-1938. Наука, Moscow 2001. ISBN 5-02-005199-3
- Kozlova, Mariia Mikhailovna: Перо розовой чайки. Ulyanovsk 1997. ISBN 5-89146-016-5