Lapland Longspur Life History

Habitat

Habitat Grasslands

In all seasons, Lapland Longspurs occur exclusively in open, treeless habitats. On their breeding grounds they are found in arctic tundra as well as in high-elevation alpine tundra in the mountain ranges of Alaska. The rest of the year they can be found in any open habitat with short grass or bare ground.

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Food

Food Insects

Mostly seeds from grasses and other plants. During the breeding season they also eat insects and other invertebrates. Lapland Longspurs spend almost all of their time foraging for seeds directly on the ground, often in places where dense low vegetation is interspersed with patches of bare ground. Sometimes forages for springtails on snow surface.

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Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest Ground

On the ground, often well-hidden in a wet meadow at the base of a tussock, with overhanging vegetation.

Nest Description

A Lapland Longspur nest is a tightly woven cup of grasses placed in a hollow on the ground. The nest is often lined with ptarmigan feathers or fur from hare, lemming, or dog.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-7 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:0.8-0.9 in (1.9-2.2 cm)
Egg Width:0.4-0.6 in (1.1-1.6 cm)
Incubation Period:11-13 days
Nestling Period:6-10 days
Condition at Hatching:Helpless.
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Behavior

Behavior Ground Forager

On their arctic breeding grounds, the size of the male’s territory seems dependent on food availability, with higher density of singing males in areas where food is more plentiful. Male Lapland Longspurs arrive to the tundra before the females do, and perform a flight song display, in which a male bird will fly to a height of 20 meters and sing as he glides to the ground, in an attempt to attract a mate. Upon attracting a female’s attention, the male performs what is called “Grass Display”, in which he gathers grasses and moss to bring to the female. The rest of the year, are highly gregarious, and can be found in flocks numbering in the millions in some parts of their winter range, often mixed in with Snow Buntings and Horned Larks where their ranges overlap.

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Conservation

Conservation Low Concern

Lapland Longspur populations appear to have remained mostly stable over the last half-century, though their remote arctic breeding range make them almost impossible to assess with standardized survey projects like the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 140 million, with an estimated 66 million of those breeding in North America. Lapland Longspur has a Continental Concern score of 6 out of 20, indicating that it is a species of low conservation concern. There is no obvious large-scale habitat loss in any part of the Lapland Longspur’s range, and in fact, agriculture may have enhanced winter habitat and increased supplies of the various seeds they eat. Pesticides used to prevent insect predation on crops are potentially a problem for Lapland Longspurs, as application of pesticides often coincides with the spring migration of this species. In addition, longspurs can form immense flocks (sometimes exceeding 1 million birds), and these flocks sometimes collide with lighted structures such as radio towers, causing thousands of deaths in a single night.

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Credits

Hussell, David J. and Robert Montgomerie. (2002). Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2019). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 1019 Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2019.

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

Rosenberg, K. V., J. A. Kennedy, R. Dettmers, R. P. Ford, D. Reynolds, J. D. Alexander, C. J. Beardmore, P. J. Blancher, R. E. Bogart, G. S. Butcher, A. F. Camfield, A. Couturier, D. W. Demarest, W. E. Easton, J. J. Giocomo, R. H. Keller, A. E. Mini, A. O. Panjabi, D. N. Pashley, T. D. Rich, J. M. Ruth, H. Stabins, J. Stanton, and T. Will (2016). Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan: 2016 Revision for Canada and Continental United States. Partners in Flight Science Committee.

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

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