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Chestnut-collared Longspur

Photo by Katharine Schulz

How do I recognize it? 

Longspurs have a sparrow-like appearance.  The female is dull brown and rather nondescript but the breeding male Chestnut-collared Longspur has a distinctive chestnut nape or hindneck, black and white striped face, a creamy yellow throat and jet black underparts.  Extensive white outer tail feathers are especially obvious when the males launch into low aerial display flights over their nesting territory whilst singing their characteristic flight song that sounds similar to a far-off meadowlark.

Is it migratory?

As with all of Manitoba’s Threatened and Endangered grassland birds (Ferruginous Hawk, Burrowing Owl, Loggerhead Shrike, Sprague’s Pipit, Baird’s Sparrow), the Chestnut-collared Longspur nests on open prairie and winters in the southernmost U.S.A. and northernmost Mexico. The wintering grounds are in short-grass prairie and desert grasslands from Kansas to Arizona in the southern United States and extending south into northern Mexico.

Where does it live?  

During the northern breeding season, the Chestnut-collared Longspur has a particularly small nesting range in the Northern Great Plains including the southern extremes of the Canadian Prairies and Montana and the Dakotas. The Chestnut-collared Longspur does not tolerate tall or dense grass, preferring well grazed pastures and other short dry prairie sites.  An endemic of the Northern Great Plains, it historically bred at sites disturbed by fire or grazed by bison. It is generally found in well-grazed pastures, sparsely vegetated native grasslands or recently mowed hayfields.  These habitats are most extensive in southwestern Manitoba, especially the Southwestern Manitoba Mixed-grass Prairie IBA. This area includes the remnant pastures in the Lyleton-Pierson area, the Souris and “Blind Souris” valleys and the “Poverty Plains”. Other important areas include the Shilo Plains and the Ellice-Archie community pastures near St Lazare.

Where can I see it? 

The Southwestern Manitoba Mixed-grass Prairie Important Bird Area is the best area for viewing this and other grassland species in Manitoba. You can find the best places to view this and other species of interest by following the Manitoba Grasslands Birding Trail guide. If you eBird a trip to this area, please consider using the IBA Canada Protocol and helping a Nature Manitoba program!

Conservation status: 

The Chestnut-collared Longspur is considered a Threatened Species by COSEWIC (Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada), and is listed as Endangered under the Manitoba Endangered Species and Ecosystems Act.  It is also listed as globally Near-threatened by Birdlife International. Its population in Canada is estimated to have declined by around 87% since the 1960s and it has disappeared throughout much of its former nesting range in south central Manitoba. Declines are due to a loss of native grassland habitat to crop production on both its breeding and wintering grounds, the Chestnut-collared Longspur is considered a species at risk by both federal and provincial legislation. Range loss and fragmentation is certainly a factor – consider that this species was present around Winnipeg up to the 1980’s. Nature Manitoba is currently partners on a project supporting cattle producers in southwestern Manitoba. This type of initiative will support the moderate to heavy grazing needed to create shorter structurally diverse vegetation favoured by longspurs. It will also support other activities such as mowing shrubs on native prairie.