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Lapland LongspurLapland Longspur
Lapland Longspurs breed across North America, Greenland, and Eurasia in a circumpolar range mostly north of the Arctic Circle. They are the most numerous passerine birds on the Arctic tundra, reaching densities of about one breeding bird per acre.
Lapland Longspur Range Map

Lapland Longspurs arrive on the Arctic breeding grounds in May, as snow and ice begin to thaw. Because of the uncertain spring weather, migrants retain some of their fat reserves from migration. Males arrive first and quickly establish territories in moist open tundra by singing nearly incessantly and interacting aggressively with their neighbors. Males begin to court females when they arrive a few days to one week later. They perform courtship flights during which they ascend 15 to 30 feet, then glide to earth, singing with tail spread and wings held in a "V."

In the short Arctic summer, Lapland Longspurs experience a compressed breeding season. The onset of courtship, nesting, hatching, and fledging is very synchronous. Females begin building nests within a few days of arrival on the breeding grounds. Within three days they complete the cup of grass, lichens, moss and rootlets in a sheltered depression on the ground. The nest may be lined with ptarmigan or raven feathers, and caribou, lemming, or dog hair. The female incubates the five to six eggs for less than two weeks. Hatchlings are fed a diet of insects, especially mosquitoes, craneflies, and beetles. They leave the nest even before they can fly, at eight to ten days of age, thus avoiding predators such as weasels and jaegers attracted to the smell and noise of the nest. Three to five days later the young can fly. Often the last-hatched nestlings are left behind. After the breeding season, they gather in small groups that gradually unite into larger migrating flocks.

Autumn migration may begin as early as August, with the main flight in September to October. Lapland Longspurs spend the winter primarily in the central and northern Great Plains of southern Canada and north-central United States. They are most common in areas with agricultural crops of winter wheat or oats. They are gregarious during migration and in the main part of their winter range. Huge flocks numbering up to one million have been recorded. They are also found in much smaller numbers, often associated with pipits, Horned Larks and Snow Buntings, from northern California and British Columbia to the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to Newfoundland. Winter habitat includes pastures, fields of stubble, airfields, coastal marshes and beaches. The number of observed migrants fluctuates during winter from year to year with the severity of weather and the abundance of food.

In flight, Lapland Longspurs appear chunky and have a stronger, more powerful style than the fluttering Horned Larks with which they may associate. They forage on the ground, walking or running while searching intently for seeds. When flushed, they circle in tight flocks, giving a characteristic flight call, a short hard "prrrrt" followed by a short musical whistled "chu." Longspurs tend to stay together even in mixed flocks.

Description: Lapland Longspurs are large sparrows with relatively short tails and large heads. Males in breeding season are distinctively colored. The short bill is yellow with a dark tip. The face, throat and breast are black, separated from the rufous nape and black crown by a white supercilium stripe that extends down to the shoulder. Male upperparts are blackish, streaked with pale buff. Lapland Longspurs have a white belly bordered by black flank stripes. Their outer tail feathers are white.

Females are distinguished by their rufous nape and greater wing coverts, and by blackish lateral crown stripes separated by a bold supercilium from the blackish-bordered ear coverts. Like the males, they have striped upperparts and whitish underparts with striped flanks. In winter, males resemble females in breeding plumage, but the male's dark breast pattern is visible as faint barring or spotting.

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