Lapland longspur

Calcarius lapponicus

TAXONOMY

Fringilla lapponica Linnaeus 1758, Lapland. Two subspecies. OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Alaska longspur, lapland bunting; French: Bruant lapon; German: Spornammer; Spanish: Escribano Lapón.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

5.5-7 in (23.5-17 cm); 0.95 oz (27 g). Lapland longspurs are large, strong-flying sparrows. The sexes differ in color. Breeding males have a black face outlined with buff white stripes above the eye and behind the ear, the back of the head and nape are bright rusty, and the bill is bright yellow with a black tip; they also have a black bib. Females have a buff stripe over the eye and buff ear coverts that are outlined in black, and the throat is blackish. Juveniles have streaking on the crown, in the buff line over the eye, and on their underparts.

DISTRIBUTION

Circumpolar. In Eurasia, they breed from Finland west across northern Russia and Siberia to the Kamchatka Peninsula and winter from northern Europe and northern Asia south to the British Isles, France, southern Russia, Mongolia, and northern China. In North America, they breed from the Aleutian Islands, Alaska east across arctic Alaska and Canada (including the arctic islands) to the coast of eastern Greenland and winter from the central Great Plains and southern Wisconsin, southern Ontario, and central Nova Scotia south to the Gulf Coast and northern Florida. C. l. alascensis breeds in north and west Alaska including the Aleutian Islands and islands in the Bering Sea. C. l. coloratus breeds in eastern Siberia, the Kamchatka Peninsula, and Commander Islands, and occasionally east to Attu Island, Alaska.

HABITAT

They are generally the most common birds of the high arctic where they can be found in a variety of tundra habitats. During migration and winter, they can be found in fallow fields, short pastures, and along beaches.

BEHAVIOR

Males arrive on the breeding ground before females and start defending and advertising a territory by giving a flight song and chasing intruders from their territory. They also sing from a rock, the top of a sedge tussock, or phone wires. During courtship, the pair engages in reciprocal chasing. During migration and winter, they are often found in large flocks, sometimes of more than a million individuals. They may also be found with horned larks (Eremophila alpestris), pipits (Anthus), other longspurs, or snow buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis).

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

They feed on the ground and, in summer, they eat insects and other invertebrates. In winter they eat primarily seeds and grain.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Monogamous. The nest is a cup of rather coarse sedges placed in a depression in the ground. They lay one to six (usually five) eggs; incubation requires 10-14 days, and the young fledge after 8-10 days. Both parents feed the young. Nesting takes place from late May through early July.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not threatened.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS None known. ♦

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