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Lapland Longspur, Christian Artuso
Photo © Christian Artuso

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

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Lapland Longspur
Calcarius lapponicus
Landscape associations:

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Conserv. status:
SRANK: Widespread Breeder (S4B)
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
10 46 40 684
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
BBS trends are not available for this species

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
1.3766% 0.00% 0.00%
Boreal Taiga PlainsPrairie PotholesTaiga Shield and Hudson Plains
0.00% 0.00% 1.2616%

Characteristics and Range This hardy ground-dweller is one of the world's northernmost breeding songbirds. It breeds from Kamchatka to Scandinavia (Lapland) and across the Nearctic from Greenland to the Aleutian Islands, with its southernmost breeding around 55°N near James Bay. North American populations winter from southern Canada (though irregular in Manitoba) through most of the conterminous U.S.A., with the highest densities on the Great Plains (Hussell and Montgomerie 2002).

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat Lapland Longspurs were found all along the Hudson Bay coast, and extending approximately 100 km farther inland along the Nunavut land border than estimated in The Birds of Manitoba (to Courage Lake). There was an absence of breeding records around Churchill (see below), presumed migrants being detected there as late as 13 June but not thereafter. Despite this gap, its relative abundance was remarkably high, averaging 1.3 individuals per point count in squares where detected, or 0.6 across the Hudson Bay Lowlands, the third highest average abundance for a passerine in the north after Common Redpoll (0.8) and Savannah Sparrow (0.7). This longspur was more restricted in distribution than those two species and reached an unparalleled peak of 6.9 individuals per point count in one square, and an average of 5.9 individuals per point count in the northern Arctic Plains & Mountains. Relative abundance decreased southward; however, there was also high abundance inland around Courage and Nejanilini Lakes and an area of only slightly lower abundance in Wapusk National Park.

The Lapland Longspur breeds in open terrain in northern Manitoba, typically in peat polygons, wet tundra, fens, sedge meadows with hummocks, and on flats or slopes with crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) and other groundcover. Where trees are more common, along Manitoba's ill-defined treeline, it is typically replaced by Smith's Longspur (Hussell and Montgomerie 2002).

Trends, Conservation, and Recommendations The mysterious disappearance of breeding Lapland Longspurs from the Churchill area, where it was considered the most abundant nesting bird in the 1930s, is one of Manitoba's greatest avian mysteries, matched by the drastic decline of the Semipalmated Sandpiper (The Birds of Manitoba). However, unlike the sandpiper, the Lapland Longspur was confirmed breeding in 10 squares, with probable breeding evidence found in 46 others. Possible local mechanisms of decline include shrub encroachment caused by isostatic rebound and/or climate change (Ballantyne and Nol 2015), road construction and associated hydrology constraints (Rockwell et al. 2009), and excessive grazing by geese in La Pérouse Bay (Klima and Jehl 2012).

CBC data suggested that the North American population was stable until 1988 (Hussell and Montgomerie 2002) and even until 2006 (Downes et al. 2011) but a recent analysis contradicts this, suggesting declines of 50% (Rosenburg et al. 2016). With winter flocks sometimes estimated in the millions (Hussell and Montgomerie 2002), this is still a common bird but vulnerable to pesticides, collisions, and perhaps climate change. The banning of toxic neonicotinoids seed coatings would benefit the Lapland Longspur and other granivorous species whose spring migration tends to coincide with the timing of seeding operations (Hussell and Montgomerie 2002). Strobe lighting and effective protocols on the illumination of communication towers and other infrastructure would reduce longspur mortalities that sometimes number in the millions during winter storms (Hussell and Montgomerie 2002).

Christian Artuso

Recommended citation: Artuso, C. 2018. Lapland 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 [15 Jul 2024]

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Banner photo: Christian Artuso