BIRD OF THE WEEK: 5/23/2014
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Calcarius ornatus
POPULATION: 3 million
HABITAT: Breeds in shortgrass prairie; winters in open, cultivated fields
Longspurs are named for the long claw on the bird's hind toe. The Chestnut-collared Longspur is an iconic species of shortgrass prairie, once nesting at sites grazed by bison or disturbed by fire. Today, with most native habitat gone, it is often found in pastures and airstrips.
Declining migrants like this one need habitat on both breeding and wintering grounds. Our Mexican partner Pronatura Noreste has established the El Tokio Grassland Priority Conservation Area providing winter habitat for this longspur as well as Long-billed Curlew and Mountain Plover.
Our Long-billed Curlew Project now underway in the northern Great Plains also will provide breeding habitat for longspurs through well-managed grazing on private lands.
The Chestnut-collared Longspur defends his territory by performing a remarkable aerial display. The bird rapidly ascends to around 30 feet, then flies in undulating circles while spreading his white-marked tail and singing. The bird descends on rapidly fluttering wings, often repeating his performance several times without landing.
“There is nothing quite like watching the sun rise over a prairie with exuberant longspurs dancing in the wind,” says Dan Casey of ABC's Northern Rockies office.
The birds build their grass nests directly on the ground. Unfortunately, there is evidence that pesticides used to control crop pests reduce their hatching success, a further threat to this species.
Following the breeding season, flocks of Chestnut-collared Longspurs head south to winter on the dry grasslands of the south-central and southwestern United States, as well as the Chihuahuan Desert Grasslands of north-central Mexico.
The Chestnut-collared Longspur is a focus species of ABC's efforts to "bring back the birds." Conserving geographically linked habitats in places both north and south also benefits North American migrants such as Sprague's Pipit and resident birds like Mexico's Worthen's Sparrow.