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The Chestnut-collared Longspur, a captivating denizen of the grassy prairies, has long intrigued ornithologists and nature enthusiasts alike. With its striking breeding plumage and unique foraging behaviors, this small sparrow-like bird offers a fascinating glimpse into the intricate web of life on the Great Plains.

From its distinctive spring migration vocalizations to the iridescent blue-black breeding plumage that sets it apart, the Chestnut-collared Longspur is a testament to the marvels of the avian world. However, there is much more to this intriguing species than meets the eye, and delving into its anatomy, physiology, and conservation status uncovers a tapestry of remarkable details waiting to be unraveled.

Key Takeaways

  • The Chestnut Collared Longspur is a stocky bird with a black belly, yellowish throat, and rusty nape.
  • It has distinctive breeding plumage markings including a black triangle on the chest and white outer tail feathers in flight.
  • The bird is known for its melodious warbling song and can be found in grassy prairies and short grass fields.
  • During the breeding season, the male undergoes a remarkable transformation with iridescent blue-black plumage on the head, throat, and upper chest.

Chestnut-Collared Longspur Appearance and Behavior

distinctive longspur with chestnut collar

The Chestnut-Collared Longspur is characterized by its striking physical features and distinctive behaviors.

The male, during the breeding season, embodies a stocky build, black belly, yellowish throat, and a unique rusty nape. In contrast, the nonbreeding adults and immatures wear a grayish buff coat with dusky streaks and a plain face.

This bird, native to North America, is often spotted walking or running on the ground, displaying frequent head bobbing. Nonbreeding seasons see them forming flocks, sometimes up to 100 in number, predominately in shortgrass prairies with open, sparse vegetation.

The male Chestnut-Collared Longspur's voice rings with a melodious warble, similar to a Western Meadowlark. Its size ranges between that of an American Goldfinch and a Lark Bunting, standing 5.1-6.5 inches in length and weighing 0.6-0.8 ounces.

Nesting on the ground in open areas is part of their unique behavior.

Distinctive Breeding Plumage Markings

The Chestnut-Collared Longspur, a standout avian species in the grassland habitat, is characterized by its distinctive breeding plumage markings. The bird's physical features include a chestnut nape, suggestive of its name, paired with dusky streaks on its back.

The bird's belly is black, forming a stark contrast to its yellowish throat. A noticeable black triangle graces the bird's chest, contributing to its charm. In flight, the bird unveils white outer tail feathers, intensifying its attractiveness.

The breeding males exhibit these markings more prominently, highlighting the species' attractiveness and uniqueness. The bird's complex blend of colors and patterns renders it a visual marvel, drawing the eye of anyone fortunate enough to spot it in its native grassland environment.

Anatomy and physiology

study of body structure

The Chestnut-Collared Longspur's anatomy and physiology are characterized by a small, stocky build, a large head, and a relatively short tail. Males and females each have unique plumage patterns during the breeding season.

This species, native to North America, is known for its ground-dwelling behavior, characterized by low crouching and pattering footsteps. A melodious warbling song, similar to that of the Western Meadowlark, is a prominent feature of its breeding season.

The Chestnut-Collared Longspur mainly feeds on seeds and insects, with seeds making up a substantial part of their diet in both summer and winter. They inhabit grassy prairies and short grass fields.

The female Chestnut-Collared Longspur incubates the eggs for approximately 10-13 days, and both parents share the responsibility of feeding the nestlings, demonstrating their attentive parenting.

Iridescent Blue-Black Breeding Plumage

vibrant blue black breeding plumage

The male Chestnut-Collared Longspur undergoes a remarkable transformation during breeding season, presenting iridescent blue-black plumage that covers its head, throat, and upper chest. This plumage transformation serves as a visual signal in courtship displays. Its iridescence reflects light for a glossy finish and intensifies the blue-black coloration.

This glossy appearance and intense coloration heighten the male's appeal to potential mates. This change in plumage represents a distinguishing and captivating characteristic of the male Chestnut-Collared Longspur during breeding season. It offers a visual treat for bird enthusiasts tracking bird updates.

Distinctive Breeding Plumage Displays Iridescent Blue-Black

iridescent blue black plumage display

The male Chestnut-Collared Longspur, during the breeding season, undergoes a unique transformation, revealing an iridescent blue-black plumage. This noticeable change manifests particularly on the bird's head, throat, and upper breast.

The iridescence serves a particular function, acting as a visual attraction in the grasslands, playing a crucial role in the male's courtship rituals. The shimmering blue-black plumage stands out in stark contrast with the black belly and chestnut nape, exuding a sense of elegance and sophistication.

This plumage, vibrant and full of life, is not just a distinguishing feature of the males during breeding season but also a symbol of the species' resilience amidst conservation issues. The breeding plumage is a representation of the beauty and hope of this grassland species, and signifies nature's enduring marvels.

Spring Migration Timing

birds spring migration patterns

The Chestnut-Collared Longspur commences its spring migration to the northern Great Plains of the United States and southern Canada. These longspurs depart from their nests at the start of spring, indicating the significance of the season's timing to their migration.

Observations from Partners in Flight and Merlin Bird reveal groupings of these longspurs, with flocks reaching up to 100 individuals, demonstrating their social behavior.

Upon reaching their breeding grounds, the male longspurs engage in courtship displays in the air and on the ground, creating a fascinating spectacle over the mixed-grass prairies. The males' flight-songs echo across the breeding grounds, adding a melodious note to the spring atmosphere.

This migration is a testament to the Chestnut-Collared Longspur's adaptability and resilience as they relocate to their summer breeding areas.

Distinctive Spring Migration Vocalizations

The Chestnut-Collared Longspur exhibits distinctive spring migration vocalizations. These vocalizations consist of melodious warbles that bear a resemblance to the sounds of the Western Meadowlark. Males, particularly those ready to breed, are often observed producing these sounds from exposed perches. Features of these vocalizations include a sweet, tumbling song and a hard ji-jiv call made during flight. The males also produce complex descending songs, a behavior that adds to their unique mating rituals.

These vocalizations serve several functions such as courtship displays and territory defense. They are a defining characteristic of the Chestnut-Collared Longspur during the spring migration season. In the Chihuahuan Desert, their natural habitat, these sounds are a key aspect for researchers studying this species, especially during the breeding season. Observations of Chestnut-Collared Longspurs flying in undulating circles over low vegetation are often accompanied by these distinctive vocalizations.

Do Chestnut-Collared Longspurs and Black-Headed Gulls Live in the Same Habitat?

Yes, the Chestnut-Collared Longspurs and Black-Headed Gulls may share the same habitat. The black headed gull species tends to inhabit wetlands and coastal areas, while the longspurs prefer open grasslands and prairies. Therefore, there is potential for these two bird species to overlap in their habitat usage.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Big Are Chestnut-Collared Longspurs?

Chestnut-collared Longspurs, with a size range of 5.1-6.5 inches, are slightly smaller than a Lark Bunting and a bit larger than an American Goldfinch. Their compact shape, short tail, and small sparrowlike size are distinguishing features.

Why Are Chestnut-Collared Longspur Endangered?

The endangerment of the Chestnut-collared Longspur stems from a decline in population. This drop in numbers is primarily the result of breeding habitat loss and degradation. Oil and gas development, which negatively affects nesting success, also contributes to this issue. The main thrust of conservation efforts is the preservation and restoration of grassland habitats.

What Is the Difference Between Thick-Billed Longspur and Chestnut-Collared Longspur?

The main distinction between Thick-Billed Longspur and Chestnut-Collared Longspur lies in their bill size, belly color, preferred grassland habitat, and distribution. Each species has unique songs and calls, and both are facing conservation challenges.

What Does the Chestnut-Collared Longspur Eat?

The Chestnut-Collared Longspur's diet primarily consists of insects, particularly grasshoppers, which it occasionally catches near the ground. This bird also consumes seeds, gathered from the ground or low-lying vegetation during its foraging activities.


In conclusion, the Chestnut-collared Longspur is a fascinating bird with distinctive breeding plumage markings and iridescent blue-black displays.

Their spring migration timing and vocalizations are unique and contribute to their overall behavior and appearance.

With a population estimated at 3.1 million, conservation efforts are crucial to preserving their grassland habitats in the northern Great Plains of the United States and southern Canada.