Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Sprague's Pipit

Anthus spragueii

Audubon called this bird the "Missouri skylark," because he found it singing in the sky over the prairies along the upper Missouri River. Sprague's Pipit delivers its breathy flight-song while hovering high in the air, often for minutes at a time, over the northern Great Plains in summer. In winter, it becomes an elusive skulker in the short grass of dry prairies. Unlike the American Pipit, Sprague's never occurs in flocks. Even where it is common in winter, the birds flush singly from the grass, to circle high in the air before diving steeply to land again.
Conservation status Numbers have declined in much of range as breeding habitat has been converted to agricultural fields.
Family Wagtails and Pipits
Habitat Plains, shortgrass prairies. Breeds in relatively dry grassland, especially native prairie, avoiding brushy areas and cultivated fields. Winters in similar shortgrass habitats including pastures and prairies, and grassy patches within fields of crops such as alfalfa.
Audubon called this bird the "Missouri skylark," because he found it singing in the sky over the prairies along the upper Missouri River. Sprague's Pipit delivers its breathy flight-song while hovering high in the air, often for minutes at a time, over the northern Great Plains in summer. In winter, it becomes an elusive skulker in the short grass of dry prairies. Unlike the American Pipit, Sprague's never occurs in flocks. Even where it is common in winter, the birds flush singly from the grass, to circle high in the air before diving steeply to land again.
Photo Gallery
  • adult
  • adult
Feeding Behavior

Forages by walking on the ground, usually among fairly dense short grass, searching for insects and seeds. Forages alone, not in flocks.


Eggs

4-5, rarely 3-6. Whitish, heavily spotted with maroon or purplish-brown. Incubation is probably by female, incubation period not well known. Adult does not fly to nest, but lands several feet away and walks there. Incubating bird may not flush from nest until approached within a few feet. Young: Fed by female, possibly by male, but details not well known. May leave nest as early as 10-11 days after hatching, before able to fly well. Adults may raise 2 broods per year.


Young

Fed by female, possibly by male, but details not well known. May leave nest as early as 10-11 days after hatching, before able to fly well. Adults may raise 2 broods per year.

Diet

Mostly insects, some seeds. Diet is not known in detail. Apparently eats mainly insects, especially in summer, including grasshoppers, crickets, various beetles, moths, and others. Also eats many small seeds of grasses and weeds, perhaps more in fall and winter. Young birds are fed almost entirely on insects.


Nesting

Male sings to defend nesting territory, spiraling up to 300' or even higher above the ground, then hovering and circling for several minutes while singing repeatedly. In some cases, a single song-flight may last half an hour or even longer. Nest site is on ground in grassy field, usually in a slight depression or tucked into the side of a clump of grass. Nest (probably built by female) is a solidly woven cup of dry grass stems, sometimes lined with finer grass. Often has grass arched over the top, with entrance at the side.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Migrates relatively late in fall and early in spring.

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Migration

Migrates relatively late in fall and early in spring.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Flight song, performed high in the air, is a descending series of tinkling double notes. Call a series of sharp pips.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Wagtails and Pipits Perching Birds

Sprague's Pipit

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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