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Circumpolar Species

Of the four species of longspur, Lapland Longspur is the most abundant with a worldwide population estimated at 150,000,000 breeding over a large circumpolar range. On the Chico, they are seen on occasion in November into early December if you walk in shortgrass prairie and get lucky. Like all longspurs, their hind toe is elongated as implied in their scientific name, Calcarius laponnicus, Calarius from Latin calcar, or spur, referring to their very long hind toe. In summer they are beautiful birds, but like the other longspur species, they are dull-colored during winter months and unlike many songbirds who molt to obtain a breeding plumage, longspurs obtain their breeding plumage by a slow wearing of their feather tips.

On November 9th I saw a few flocks totaling over 300 individual Lapland Longspurs on the Chico, by far the most I have seen here. There was a report of over a million birds in one flock seen in a snowstorm last winter on agricultural fields in eastern Colorado where they search with Horned Larks for waste grain. During a blizzard in southwest Minnesota and northwest Iowa a number of years ago, an estimated 1,500,000 Lapland Longspurs were killed as they flew into unseen structures. Given Lapland Longspurs breed in tundra where there are no structures, it is not surprising that this type of avian accident could occur outside their breeding range during blizzard conditions.

Because most birders do not drive out in the huge expanses of shortgrass prairie, few see the large flocks of this species that could be flying about anywhere there is prairie habitat.

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