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Chestnut-collared Longspur Life History



Chestnut-collared Longspurs breed in the shortgrass and mixed-grass prairies of the northern Great Plains. They are typically found in areas where the grass is shorter than 1 foot, but will occasionally be found in tallgrass prairie that has been grazed or mowed. Because of its affinity for short grasses, it is most abundant in areas that have been recently grazed, and to a lesser extent mowed or burned. It also uses very dry areas where grasses remain short without grazing or other disturbance. The species migrates through shortgrass prairie, black-tailed prairie dog towns, fallow fields, and cropfields. In the winter, Chestnut-collared Longspurs move to the southern Great Plains and the Chihuahuan Desert, where they use shortgrass prairie and desert grasslands where there is little to no shrub cover. On the wintering grounds, they use black-tailed prairie dog colonies, cultivated fields, and isolated water sources. They are not as closely associated with grazed areas during winter as they are in summer, and may avoid overgrazed areas.

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Chestnut-collared Longspurs eat mostly insects, especially grasshoppers, and seeds which they pick from the ground or from low vegetation while walking. They also occasionally flycatch for insects close to the ground.

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Nest Placement


Nests on the ground (often near a cow pie) in areas with slightly taller vegetation within their shortgrass habitat.

Nest Description

The female creates a depression in the ground and lines it with grasses, sometimes with hair or feathers in the lining. Nests are about 3.5 inches across and 2 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-5 eggs
Number of Broods:2-3 broods
Egg Length:0.6-0.8 in (1.6-2.1 cm)
Egg Width:0.5-0.6 in (1.3-1.6 cm)
Incubation Period:7-15 days
Nestling Period:7-15 days
Egg Description:

White, gray, or pale buff spotted with reddish brown or purple.

Condition at Hatching:

Helpless, with eyes closed, and covered with sparse gray or buff down.

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Ground Forager

The Chestnut-collared Longspur spends much of its time walking quietly among grasses foraging for food. Males on territory attract females with an aerial song display in which they fly up to 50 feet off the ground, circle, and descend while singing and spreading the tail. They also sing from low perches such as fences and shrubs. Chestnut-collared Longspurs are socially monogamous and often nest twice each summer, although a female’s second brood is frequently the result of extra-pair copulation. Breeding pairs defend their territories from other pairs during the breeding season, but Chestnut-collared Longspurs are quite gregarious in the winter months, forming flocks of 50–100 individuals.

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Chestnut-collared Longspur populations declined by an estimated 4.2% per year between 1966 and 2015 (indicating a cumulative decline of 87%), according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 3.1 million and rates the species a 15 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. They are on the group’s Yellow Watch List because of their declining population. If current rates of decline continue, Chestnut Collared Longspurs will lose another half of their population by the year 2037. The single largest conservation concern for Chestnut-collared Longspurs is loss and degradation of breeding habitat. The species has disappeared from much of its historical range as people have converted the native prairie to cropland and towns. This species is adapted to living on grazed land—originally by native species such as bison, and now by livestock. Now that bison are largely absent, protected areas of prairie that are not grazed or otherwise regularly disturbed are not suitable habitat. Increased oil and gas development also affects nesting success as Chestnut-collared Longspurs tend to avoid these areas. The species benefits from grazing and other forms of active management targeted at other grassland species such as Burrowing Owls and McCown’s Longspurs.

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Bleho, Barbara, Kevin Ellison, Dorothy P. Hill and Lorne K. Gould. (2015). Chestnut-collared Longspur (Calcarius ornatus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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