occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Breeding
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) BREEDING: southeastern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, northern North Dakota and (previously) southwestern Minnesota, south through Montana to southeastern Wyoming, northeastern Colorado, Oklahoma, northwestern Nebraska, and Manitoba (With 1994a, AOU 1998). NON-BREEDING: primarily from western Oklahoma, western Kansas, southeastern Arizona, and central New Mexico south through Sonora and Chihuahua to northern Durango (With 1994a, AOU 1998). Rarely in Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and ne and coastal California (With 1994a).
- Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
Length: 15 cm
Weight: 23 grams
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: Sparse short-grass plains, plowed and stubble fields, and areas of bare or nearly bare ground (AOU 1983). Use grasslands with little litter (Felske 1971) and low vegetation cover (DuBois 1935, Creighton 1974), such as that provided by shortgrass or heavily grazed mixed-grass prairie (Saunders 1914; Finzel 1964; Wiens 1970; Maher 1973, 1974; Creighton 1974; Oberholser 1974; Porter and Ryder 1974; Stewart 1975; With 1994a; Prescott and Wagner 1996). Cultivated lands also may be utilized, including small-grain stubble fields, minimum- and conventional-tilled land, and summer fallow fields (Felske 1971, Stewart 1975, Martin in prep.), although, historically, agricultural lands were avoided (DuBois 1935, Mickey 1943). Early-season abundance of nesting birds in cropland fields in southcentral Alberta showed a positive correlation with percent bare ground, and productivity appeared to be negatively correlated with the vertical density of forbs (Martin in prep.). Often breed on high, barren hillsides with southern exposures (Giezentanner 1970a,b; Felske 1971; Creighton 1974). Blue grama (BOUTELOUA GRACILIS) and buffalo grass (BUCHLOE DACTYLOIDES) are dominant plants in nesting areas (DuBois 1935, Cassel 1952, Creighton 1974).
Nests usually in a scrape on the ground at the base of a bush or clump of grass, or beside cattle dung. Nests beside shrubs may be subject to heavy predation by ground squirrels (With 1994a). Nests tend to be oriented to the north (With and Webb 1993), and about one-third to one-half of nests are placed near clumps of grass, shrubs, plains prickly pear (OPUNTIA POLYACANTHA), or cowpies (DuBois 1935, Mickey 1943, With 1994b). However, shrubs and prickly pear near the nest may facilitate depredation by providing protective cover to predators. In northcentral Colorado, for example, 75-80 percent of nests placed near shrubs or prickly pear were depredated (With 1994b). Nests depredated during incubation had six times more shrub cover within 1 meter of the nest than did successful nests.
In northcentral Colorado, nests were exposed completely to solar radiation at midday and had 45 percent total exposure per day (With and Webb 1993). High exposure to solar radiation may ameliorate cold stresses associated with an early breeding season. Nests constructed later in the season were more likely to be constructed near vegetative cover than those constructed earlier in the season (With and Webb 1993). In southeastern Wyoming, percent vegetation coverage within 5 centimeters of the ground was higher in occupied territories than in unoccupied territories (Greer and Anderson 1989). Occupied territories also had fewer cowpies, less lichen, and lower forb coverage than unoccupied areas.
Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Flocks migrate from winter range in Texas in March-early April, from Arizona late February-early May. Reaches nesting areas in April, early to mid-April in Wyoming (Greer and Anderson 1989), mid- to late April in Montana. In winter may be seen with flocks of horned larks.
Comments: Forages on the ground for seeds and insects. Primarily insectivorous in breeding season; diet consists mainly of orthopterans and beetles.
Known prey organisms
pendler three-awn grass
Based on studies in:
USA: California, Cabrillo Point (Grassland)
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
- L. D. Harris and L. Paur, A quantitative food web analysis of a shortgrass community, Technical Report No. 154, Grassland Biome. U.S. International Biological Program (1972), from p. 17.
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
Comments: No exact figures.
10,000 to >1,000,000 individuals
Comments: Peak abundance in western Montana, southwestern Saskatchewan, and southeastern Wyoming. Locally abundant in shortgrass prairie and overgrazed pastures. In n.-central Colorado estimated 46.9 pairs per 100 hectares on a heavily grazed pasture in 1969. Another study estimated 81.5 individuals per 100 hectares in the same pasture in 1974. In a less preferred lightly grazed pasture found only 13.6 pairs per 100 hectares. In Saskatchewan estimated 79 individuals per 100 hectares. Breeding densities in Wyoming were higher with 76.6 pairs per 100 hectares (See With 1994a).
Area requirements vary by region. Reported territory sizes were 0.6 hectares in southeastern Wyoming (Greer and Anderson 1989), 0.5-1.0 hectares in Saskatchewan (Felske 1971), and 1-1.5 hectares in central Colorado (Wiens 1970, 1971; With 1994a). Pairs often nest near each other (Mickey 1943, Felske 1971). In winter may be seen with flocks of horned larks.
Life History and Behavior
The breeding season extends approximately from mid-March through mid-October (Mickey 1943, Giezentanner and Ryder 1969, Felske 1971, Creighton 1974, Salt and Salt 1976, With 1994a), but may remain on the breeding grounds as late as mid-November in some locations (Johnsgard 1980). The female incubates three to four, sometimes up to six, eggs for 12 days. In northeastern Colorado, usual clutch size was three (With 1994a). Nestlings are altricial. Young are tended by both adults, leave nest in 10 days, and fly 12 days after hatching (Terres 1980). Second broods were reported in northcentral Colorado and in Montana (DuBois 1935, Strong 1971). Second broods may be initiated as soon as three weeks after fledging of the initial brood, but may be limited by female energy reserves (Felske 1971, With 1994a).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Calcarius mccownii
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Calcarius mccownii
Public Records: 4
Specimens with Barcodes: 4
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N4B - Apparently Secure
Rounded National Status Rank: N4B,N4N : N4B: Apparently Secure - Breeding, N4N: Apparently Secure - Nonbreeding
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G4 - Apparently Secure
Reasons: Still apparently secure overall, but dramatic declines have occurred in the northern part of the range.
Other Considerations: Unpredictable occurrence on breeding and wintering areas.
Global Short Term Trend: Decline of 10-50%
Comments: Declines outlined below are apparently continuing in Canada and the northern Great Plains (Sauer et al. 2003).
Global Long Term Trend: Decline of 50-90%
Comments: A great deal of habitat has been lost over the last century.
Significant declines have occurred in the northern part of the range in the last three to four decades. Breeding Bird Survey data indicate a -13.1% annual decline for the Canadian prairies, 1966-2002, a cumulative decline of more than 99%; and just south of the Canadian border, the Glaciated Missouri Plateau region shows a -6.9% annual decline for the same period, a cumulative decline of over 92%. However, the data for all United States surveys indicate a positive, albeit not statistically significant trend, 1966-2002. Survey-wide data show a -2% annual decline, not statistically significant (Sauer et al. 2003).
Degree of Threat: B : Moderately threatened throughout its range, communities provide natural resources that when exploited alter the composition and structure of the community over the long-term, but are apparently recoverable
Comments: HABITAT LOSS AND FRAGMENTATION: Habitat destruction due to agricultural conversion and development of native prairie habitat. Restriction of fire also reduced available shortgrass prairie. Population may also be limited by availability of microclimatic features. Initial territories have southern exposure; birds may be sensitive to ground temperature or moisture. No studies have investigated a relationship between patch size and nest success or patch size and rates of brood parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds (MOLOTHRUS ATER). Cowbird parasitism, however, appears rare (With 1994a).
PREDATION: Nest predation believed to limit productivity. In Saskatchewan, Wyoming, and Colorado, about half of all nests were lost to predators, such as the thirteen-lined ground squirrel (CITELLUS TRIDECEMLINEATUS; see With 1994a). Nests in heavily grazed pasture suffered higher predation rates (up to 75 percent) compared to nests in moderately grazed pasture (up to 60 percent; With 1994a). Both eggs and nestling were depredated.
PESTICIDES: Application of insecticide toxaphene resulted in direct poisoning of nestlings (McEwen and Ells 1975 cited in With 1994a).
DISTURBANCE: May have a relatively high incidence of nest desertion due to human interference. In Saskatchewan, 10.8 percent of nests and 7.5 percent of nestlings may have been abandoned due to human interference (Felske 1971, cited in With 1994a). Individuals, however, vary in response to human disturbance; some allowed approach to within 5 - 10 meters of nest, others flushed within 25 meters (With 1994a).
Preserve Selection and Design Considerations: Protect habitat from agricultural and urban development (Oberholser 1974, With 1994a). Provide areas of adequate size to support multiple territories (0.5-1.5 hectares per territory, depending on geographic location), as pairs often nest near each other (Mickey 1943, Wiens 1970, Felske 1971, Greer and Anderson 1989, With 1994a).
Management Requirements: Provide areas with little litter and short, sparse vegetation with low forb cover (DuBois 1935; Felske 1971; Maher 1973,1974; Stewart 1975; With 1994a; Martin in prep.). Prescribed prairie burns have been suggested for historically burned areas where fire has been suppressed (Krause 1968, Oberholser 1974, With 1994a).
GRAZING: Protect vegetation that is already sparse and short from overgrazing (Oberholser 1974), especially in areas of low precipitation (Ryder 1980). Graze areas where grass is too tall or thick for breeding (Giezentanner 1970a,b; Stewart 1975; Kantrud and Kologiski 1982). Did not breed on idle mixed-grass in Saskatchewan, and preferred heavily grazed pastures over lightly or moderately grazed pastures (Felske 1971). Grazing can improve habitat by providing shorter, sparser vegetation (Giezentanner 1970a, Stewart 1975, Kantrud and Kologiski 1982, Bock et al. 1993). Heavily grazed areas with aridic boroll soils and moderately grazed areas with aridic ustoll soils appeared to be ideal nesting habitat in portions of North Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Nebraska (Kantrud and Kologiski 1982). In Alberta, preferred continuously grazed (season-long) native pastures, and were fairly common in native pastures grazed in early summer (Prescott et al. 1993, Prescott and Wagner 1996). Infrequently occupied spring-grazed (late April to mid-June) pastures of crested wheatgrass (AGROPYRON CRISTATUM), and they avoided deferred-grazed (grazed after 15 July) native pastures. In northcentral Alberta, used moderately to heavily grazed grasslands on drier, sandier sites than those used by Chestnut-collared Longspurs (CALCARIUS ORNATUS) (Wershler et al. 1991). Nesting birds in Alberta and Saskatchewan were found to favor season-long grazed native pasture over areas managed with complementary grazing (early-season grazing on crested wheatgrass with cattle rotated through several native-grassland paddocks for the remainder of the summer) (Dale and McKeating 1996). Did not breed on idle mixed-grass in Saskatchewan, and preferred heavily grazed pastures over lightly or moderately grazed pastures (Felske 1971). Summer-grazed areas were preferred over winter-grazed areas in Colorado shortgrass prairie (Giezentanner and Ryder 1969; Giezentanner 1970a,b; Wiens 1970). However, overgrazing may be detrimental (Oberholser 1974), particularly in arid, sparse shortgrass (Ryder 1980). In southern Saskatchewan, were found in equal abundances in tame and native pastures (Duncan and Davis in press).
Management Research Needs: Little is known about the short- or long-term effects of burning on populations. Some authors have suggested that prairie fire suppression has contributed to the population decline of the species (Krause 1968, Oberholser 1974, With 1994a).
Global Protection: Few to several (1-12) occurrences appropriately protected and managed
Comments: Protected in several National Wildlife Refuges.
Needs: Protect grassland habitat.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Stewardship Overview: Keys to management include providing short, sparsely vegetated native grasslands of adequate size. Mixed-grass areas can be made suitable for nesting by implementing moderate to heavy, or season-long grazing.
These birds have a large cone-shaped bill, a streaked back, a rust-coloured shoulder and a white tail with a dark tip. In breeding plumage, the male has a white throat and underparts, a grey face and nape and a black crown. Other birds have pale underparts, a dark crown and may have some black on the breast. The male's song is a clear warble. The call is a dry rattle.
In winter, they migrate in flocks to prairies and open fields in the southern United States and northern Mexico. They prefer areas with sparser vegetation than those chosen by the chestnut-collared longspur. These birds forage on the ground, gathering in flocks outside of the nesting season. They sometimes make short flights in pursuit of flying insects. They mainly eat seeds, also eating insects in summer. Young birds are mainly fed insects. This bird breeds in dry short grass prairies in central Canada, (the Canadian Prairies), and the north central United States. The female lays 3 or 4 eggs in a grass cup nest in a shallow scrape on the ground. The male sings and flies up to defend his territory. Both parents feed the young birds.
The numbers and range of these birds have declined since the early 1900s due to habitat loss.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Rhynchophanes mccownii". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael (2003). Whose Bird? Men and Women Commemorated in the Common Names of Birds. London: Christopher Helm. p. 224.
- With, K. A. 1994. McCown’s Longspur (Calcarius mccownii). In The Birds of North America, No. 96 (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, D.C.: The American Ornithologists’ Union.
- Crins WJ. (2006). Ontario Bird Records Committee Report for 2005. Ontario Birds. vol 24, no 2. p. 54-74.
- Greer RD & Anderson SH. (1989). Relationships between Population Demography of Mccown's Longspurs and Habitat Resources. Condor. vol 91, no 3. p. 609-619.
- Klicka J, Zink RM & Winker K. (2003). Longspurs and snow buntings: phylogeny and biogeography of a high-latitude clade (Calcarius). Mol Phylogenet Evol. vol 26, no 2. p. 165-175.
- Lynn SE, Hunt KE & Wingfield JC. (2003). The adrenocortical response to stress in grassland birds: Reexamining ecological influences on the stress response during breeding. Integrative & Comparative Biology. vol 43, no 6.
- Lynn SE, Hunt KE & Wingfield JC. (2003). Ecological factors affecting the adrenocortical response to stress in chestnut-collared and McCown's longspurs (Calcarius ornatus, Calcarius mccownii). Physiol Biochem Zool. vol 76, no 4. p. 566-576.
- Maher WJ. (1979). Nestling Diets of Prairie Passerine Birds at Matador Saskatchewan Canada. Ibis. vol 121, no 4. p. 437-452.
- Martin PA & Forsyth DJ. (2003). Occurrence and productivity of songbirds in prairie farmland under conventional versus minimum tillage regimes. Agric Ecosyst Environ. vol 96, no 1-3. p. 107-117.
- McEwen LC, Deweese LR & Schladweiler P. (1986). Bird Predation on Cutworms Lepidoptera Noctuidae in Wheat Fields and Chlorpyrifos Effects on Brain Cholinesterase Activity. Environmental Entomology. vol 15, no 1. p. 147-151.
- Ornelas JF, Del Coro Arizmendi M, Marquez-Valdelamar L, De Lourdes Navarijo M & Berlanga HA. (1993). Variability profiles for line transect bird censuses in a tropical dry forest in Mexico. Condor. vol 95, no 2. p. 422-441.
- Powell DJ. (1981). Michigan USA Bird Survey Spring 1981. Jack Pine Warbler. vol 59, no 3. p. 105-112.
- Read PA. (2006). McCown's Longspur: New to Ontario. Ontario Birds. vol 24, no 2. p. 88-91.
- Smith LM, Haukos DA & Prather RM. (2004). Avian response to vegetative pattern in playa wetlands during winter. Wildl Soc Bull. vol 32, no 2. p. 474-480.
- Webster JD. (1984). Richardsons Mexican Collection Birds from Zacatecas and Adjoining States. Condor. vol 86, no 2. p. 204-207.
- With KA. (1994). THE HAZARDS OF NESTING NEAR SHRUBS FOR A GRASSLAND BIRD, THE MCCOWNS LONGSPUR. Condor. vol 96, no 4. p. 1009-1019.
- With KA & Webb DR. (1993). Microclimate of ground nests: The relative importance of radiative cover and wind breaks for three grassland species. Condor. vol 95, no 2. p. 401-413.
- Wright DH. (1996). Intermittent birding at Prince Albert, 1982-1985. Blue Jay. vol 54, no 3.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Previously in the genus Calcarius, transferred to Rhynchophanes by AOU (2010).