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Chestnut-collared Longspur, Christian Artuso
Photo © Christian Artuso

Photo: Christian Artuso
Breeding evidence - Chestnut-collared Longspur
Breeding evidence
Relative abundance - Chestnut-collared Longspur
Relative abundance
Probability of observation - Chestnut-collared Longspur
Probability of observation

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Chestnut-collared Longspur
Calcarius ornatus
Landscape associations:

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Conserv. status:
COSEWIC: Threatened
SRANK: Rare Breeder (S2B)
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
5 13 18 36
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
Manitoba1970 - 2015 -6.76 (-9.67 - -3.92)Medium
Canada1970 - 2015 -5.9 (-7.23 - -4.69)High

Mean abundance (number of birds detected per 5 min. point count) and percentage of squares occupied by region

Bird Conservation Regions [abund. plot] [%squares plot]
Arctic Plains and MountainsBoreal Hardwood TransitionBoreal Softwood Shield
0.00% 0.00% 0.00%
Boreal Taiga PlainsPrairie PotholesTaiga Shield and Hudson Plains
0.00% 0.234% 0.00%

Characteristics and Range In contrast to the brown, sparrow-like appearance of female longspurs, the breeding male Chestnut-collared Longspur has a distinctive chestnut nape, a black-and-white striped face, creamy yellow throat, and jet black underparts. The white outer tail feathers are most obvious when males launch into low display flights with a flight song similar to a distant Western Meadowlark. The Chestnut-collared Longspur nests primarily in the northern Great Plains (including Manitoba) and winters in short-grass prairie and desert grasslands from Kansas to Arizona and south into northern Mexico.

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat  Chestnut-collared Longspurs formerly occurred east to Winnipeg and the southern Interlake and were locally common there until the 1980s (Cleveland et al. 1988). Ongoing loss of grasslands has doubtless impacted this species, and wetter than normal conditions in southern Manitoba since the early 1990s have resulted in vegetation becoming too dense and overgrown in many former nesting areas. As a result, this longspur is now restricted to a handful of remnant prairies and well-grazed pasturelands mostly south and west of Carberry (The Birds of Manitoba). All but one of the 36 squares where it was observed during the atlas period were in the southwest; the lone exception being near Rock Lake. Even in the southwest, this species was found on less than 1% of all point counts. Much as indicated in The Birds of Manitoba, important strongholds include short mixed-grass prairies and pasturelands in the Shilo Plains, extensive pasturelands associated with the Assiniboine River north to St-Lazare, and selected areas in the Southwest Mixed-grass Prairie IBA including remnant pastures in the Lyleton-Pierson area, the Souris and Blind Souris valleys south of Melita, and the Poverty Plains from Pierson to Broomhill.

The Chestnut-collared Longspur dœs not tolerate tall or dense grass, preferring well-grazed pastures and short, dry grasslands. It historically bred at sites disturbed by fire or grazed by bison (Bleho et al. 2015). Even today, it avoids idle grasslands or areas protected from grazing or other disturbances, and it is generally found in well-grazed pastures or (more rarely) sparsely vegetated native, or recently mowed, hayfields (Bleho et al. 2015, pers. obs.).

Trends, Conservation, and Recommendations The Chestnut-collared Longspur was once one of the most abundant birds on the prairies, but as the grasslands have dwindled, so has the longspur population. Today, it is listed as Threatened federally and Endangered in Manitoba. Due to its current highly localized and clumped distribution, BBS trends have low reliability and can change radically depending on the time period being examined. Nevertheless, steep long-term annual declines and range contraction have been documented range-wide and especially for Canada, suggesting that the species has declined by more than 87% since the mid-1960s (Sauer et al. 2015). Grazing management and prescribed burns are the most effective tools for restoring longspur nesting habitat (Dechant et al. 1998). In Manitoba and other relatively moist parts of its range, or during extended wet years, moderate to heavy grazing can be beneficial. Occasional mowing can also prevent shrub encroachment and decrease vegetation height and density.

Ken D. De Smet

Recommended citation: De Smet, K. D. 2018. Chestnut-collared Longspur in Artuso, C., A. R. Couturier, K. D. De Smet, R. F. Koes, D. Lepage, J. McCracken, R. D. Mooi, and P. Taylor (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Manitoba, 2010-2014. Bird Studies Canada. Winnipeg, Manitoba [26 May 2024]

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Banner photo: Christian Artuso