Photo: Rick & Nora Bowers/Vireo

Lapland Longspur

Calcarius lapponicus

Found throughout the Arctic zones of Europe, Asia, and North America in summer, this is one of the most abundant breeding birds of the far North. Birders who visit the tundra in summer will find Lapland Longspurs very common almost everywhere there, the bright males singing their short warbling songs from hummocks or rocks or while flying. In winter the birds come south in flocks, to forage in windswept fields. Although they range widely across the continent, the vast majority winter on the Great Plains, where flocks in the thousands seem to reflect the abundance of the species on its northern nesting grounds.
Conservation status Abundant and widespread. Most of breeding range is remote from the effects of human activity.
Family Longspurs and Snow Buntings
Habitat In summer, tundra; in winter, fields, prairies. Breeds in various kinds of treeless Arctic habitats, from open wet tundra and sedge meadows to drier upland tundra. Winters in open country including shortgrass prairie, overgrazed pastures, stubble fields, plowed fields, lake shores, and similar areas.
Found throughout the Arctic zones of Europe, Asia, and North America in summer, this is one of the most abundant breeding birds of the far North. Birders who visit the tundra in summer will find Lapland Longspurs very common almost everywhere there, the bright males singing their short warbling songs from hummocks or rocks or while flying. In winter the birds come south in flocks, to forage in windswept fields. Although they range widely across the continent, the vast majority winter on the Great Plains, where flocks in the thousands seem to reflect the abundance of the species on its northern nesting grounds.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male, breeding
  • immature female (1st winter)
  • adult male, nonbreeding
  • adult male, breeding
Feeding Behavior

Forages by walking on ground, searching methodically for food. Except when nesting, usually forages in flocks; sometimes feeds in association with Horned Larks in winter.


Eggs

4-6, sometimes 3-7. Greenish white to pale gray-green, marked with brown and black. Incubation is by female only, about 12-13 days. Male sometimes feeds female during incubation. Young: Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 8-10 days after hatching. Adults may split up the fledglings, each parent caring for only part of brood. 1 brood per year.


Young

Both parents feed nestlings. Young leave the nest about 8-10 days after hatching. Adults may split up the fledglings, each parent caring for only part of brood. 1 brood per year.

Diet

Mostly seeds and insects. Seeds make up about half of diet of adults in summer, and great majority of diet in winter; included are seeds of grasses, weeds, and sedges, also waste grain in winter. Also eats many insects in summer, including crane flies, other flies, beetles, caterpillars, true bugs, and others, as well as spiders. Young are fed mostly insects.


Nesting

Males arrive before females on the nesting grounds and establish territories with flight-song displays: flying up from ground to 30' or higher, then gliding down while singing. In courtship on ground, male may sing while running about with wings drooped, bill pointed up. In the short Arctic summer, with little time available, courtship and pairing are accomplished quickly, and females may begin nest-building within days after they arrive. Nest site is on ground, tucked into shallow depression in moss or other tundra vegetation. Nest (built by female) is cup of grass, sometimes with moss added, lined with fine grass and often with feathers.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Migrates in flocks. Tends to migrate late in fall and early in spring; in most areas south of Canada, peak passage is in November and March.

Download Our Bird Guide App

Migration

Migrates in flocks. Tends to migrate late in fall and early in spring; in most areas south of Canada, peak passage is in November and March.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Rattling call. Flight song is sweet and bubbling.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

Explore Similar Birds