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Smith's Longspur

Calcarius pictus

Length: 5.75 to 6.5 inches Wingspan: 10 to 11 inches Seasonality: Migrant
ID Keys: Winter birds have buffy underparts and nape, with a strong facial pattern on the male.  White outer feathers bordering a black tail are prominent in flight.

Smith's Longspur - Calcarius pictusThe Smith's Longspur is usually a rare migrant through the state as they move between their Arctic summering grounds and their wintering grounds on the southern Great Plains.  They generally don't mingle with other longspurs or Horned Larks.  They are known for their odd breeding behavior, in which males vigorously sing to attract females, but don't defend territories, are highly promiscuous, and often have nests of mixed parentage.

Habitat: Found near the treeline in the Arctic in the summer, primarily in grassy areas with scattered shrubs or stunted trees.  In winter, they are primarily found on heavily grazed fields, shortgrass prairie, and large "urban" grass expanses, such as around airports.

Diet: Primarily seeds, with seeds making up a large portion of the diet in all seasons.  Also will feed heavily on insects and spiders in the summer.

Behavior: Gregarious outside of the nesting season, foraging in flocks.  Does nearly all its foraging by walking and running about on the ground.

Breeding Map: Non-breeder in South Dakota.

Song: Thin sweet warbling.

Migration: Summers in the Arctic.  Winters in the southern Great Plains and southern Mississippi river area. 

Interactive eBird map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Smith's Longspur sightings

Similar Species: Lapland Longspur

Conservation Status: Not a species that's seen widely, but breeding range is generally away from human disturbance.  Numbers are probably stable.  The IUCN considers Smith's Longspur to be a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Smith's Longspur

2) WhatBird - Smith's Longspur

3) Audubon Guide - Smith's Longspur

Photo Information: February 16th, 2010 - Churchill, Manitoba - Jerry Oldenettel - Photo licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.


Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Smith's Longspur - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Rare migrant in the northeastern part of the state, extremely rare elsewhere.

Additional Smith's Longspur Photos (coming soon!)