Breeding adult male. Photo: Prairie Pot Hole Region USFWS Mountain Prairie/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Chestnut-collared Longspur

Calcarius ornatus

Male Chestnut-collared Longspurs can be found in summer singing their flight-songs over the northern prairies. In winter, flocks invade the grasslands of the Southwest. They can be hard to see well on the ground, flushing when a birder approaches, to swirl away over the fields with soft musical callnotes; they are more easily observed when they come to drink at ponds.
Conservation status Has disappeared from some former nesting areas, but still fairly widespread and common.
Family Longspurs and Snow Buntings
Habitat Plains, prairies. Breeds in the general region of shortgrass prairie, but in areas of slightly longer grass and scattered taller weeds. Winters in shortgrass prairies and fields. Overlaps broadly in range with McCown's Longspur, but tends to occur in areas with taller and denser grass.
Male Chestnut-collared Longspurs can be found in summer singing their flight-songs over the northern prairies. In winter, flocks invade the grasslands of the Southwest. They can be hard to see well on the ground, flushing when a birder approaches, to swirl away over the fields with soft musical callnotes; they are more easily observed when they come to drink at ponds.
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Feeding Behavior

Forages while running and walking on ground, picking up items from soil or from plants. After flushing insects from ground, sometimes will chase them, even in short flights.


Eggs

4-5, sometimes 3, rarely 6. Whitish, marked with brown, black, purple. Incubation is by female only, about 10-13 days. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 10 days after hatching; can fly well by a few days later. 2 broods per year.


Young

Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 10 days after hatching; can fly well by a few days later. 2 broods per year.

Diet

Mostly seeds and insects. Seeds may make up close to half of summer diet of adults, and great majority of winter diet; included are seeds of weeds and grasses. Also feeds on many insects in summer, including grasshoppers, crickets, beetles, and others, as well as spiders. Young are fed mostly insects.


Nesting

To defend nesting territory, male performs flight-song display, fluttering up about 20', flying in undulating circles while singing, then fluttering down again. Also often sings from a raised perch. Nest site is on ground, often at base of grass clump or weed, or next to dried cow manure or other object. Placed in shallow depression, either a natural hollow or one scraped out by bird, so that rim of nest is about level with ground. Female builds nest, a shallow cup of grass, lined with finer grass and sometimes with rootlets, feathers, or animal hair.

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

Migration

Migrates in flocks. Occurs in small numbers west to the Pacific Coast and as an accidental stray east to the Atlantic Coast.

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Migration

Migrates in flocks. Occurs in small numbers west to the Pacific Coast and as an accidental stray east to the Atlantic Coast.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Soft, sweet, and tumbling, somewhat like that of the Western Meadowlark; also a hard ji-jiv in flight.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Chestnut-collared Longspur

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Chestnut-collared Longspur

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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