Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus)

Lapland Longspur

[order] PASSERIFORMES | [family] Calcariidae | [latin] Calcarius lapponicus | [UK] Lapland Longspur | [FR] Bruant Japon | [DE] Spornammer | [ES] Escribano Lapon | [NL] IJsgors


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range
Calcarius lapponicus NA, EU n c EU, s USA
Calcarius lapponicus alascensis
Calcarius lapponicus coloratus
Calcarius lapponicus kamtschaticus
Calcarius lapponicus lapponicus
Calcarius lapponicus subcalcaratus

Physical charateristics

Lapland Longspurs are large sparrows with relatively short tails and large heads. Males in breeding season are distinctively colored. The short bill is yellow with a dark tip. The face, throat and breast are black, separated from the rufous nape and black crown by a white supercilium stripe that extends down to the shoulder. Male upperparts are blackish, streaked with pale buff. Lapland Longspurs have a white belly bordered by black flank stripes. Their outer tail feathers are white.

Females are distinguished by their rufous nape and greater wing coverts, and by blackish lateral crown stripes separated by a bold supercilium from the blackish-bordered ear coverts. Like the males, they have striped upperparts and whitish underparts with striped flanks. In winter, males resemble females in breeding plumage, but the male’s dark breast pattern is visible as faint barring or spotting.
In flight, Lapland Longspurs appear chunky and have a stronger, more powerful style than the fluttering Horned Larks with which they may associate. They forage on the ground, walking or running while searching intently for seeds. When flushed, they circle in tight flocks, giving a characteristic flight call, a short hard “prrrrt” followed by a short musical whistled “chu.” Longspurs tend to stay together even in mixed flocks.

Listen to the sound of Lapland Longspur

[audio: Longspur.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 65 cm wingspan max.: 82 cm
size min.: 39 cm size max.: 47 cm
incubation min.: 11 days incubation max.: 13 days
fledging min.: 9 days fledging max.: 13 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 4  
      eggs max.: 7  


North America, Eurasia : North


Lapland Longspurs breed in the high Arctic in a variety of tundra habitats. They prefer wet tundra, thickly vegetated upland areas, sedge-lined stream and pond edges, and sedge marshes. During migration and in winter, they frequent prairies, pastures, and grassy beaches


Lapland Longspurs arrive on the Arctic breeding grounds in May, as snow and ice begin to thaw. Because of the uncertain spring weather, migrants retain some of their fat reserves from migration. Males arrive first and quickly establish territories in moist open tundra by singing nearly incessantly and interacting aggressively with their neighbors. Males begin to court females when they arrive a few days to one week later. They perform courtship flights during which they ascend 5 to 10 meter, then glide to earth, singing with tail spread and wings held in a “V.”

In the short Arctic summer, Lapland Longspurs experience a compressed breeding season. The onset of courtship, nesting, hatching, and fledging is very synchronous. Females begin building nests within a few days of arrival on the breeding grounds. Within three days they complete the cup of grass, lichens, moss and rootlets in a sheltered depression on the ground. The nest may be lined with ptarmigan or raven feathers, and caribou, lemming, or dog hair. The female incubates the five to six eggs for less than two weeks. Hatchlings are fed a diet of insects, especially mosquitoes, craneflies, and beetles. They leave the nest even before they can fly, at eight to ten days of age, thus avoiding predators such as weasels and jaegers attracted to the smell and noise of the nest. Three to five days later the young can fly. Often the last-hatched nestlings are left behind. After the breeding season, they gather in small groups that gradually unite into larger migrating flocks.

Feeding habits

Seeds and arthropods make up the Lapland Longspur’s diet. During the summer, arthropods make up about half their diet, although the young longspurs eat a far greater proportion. In winter, seeds are an important diet component. In agricultural areas, they consume waste grain in great quantities as well.


This species has a large global range; the total size has not yet been quantified, but the Extent of Occurrence in the Americas alone is estimated to be 3,900,000 km2. It has a large global population estimated to be 150,000,000 individuals (Rich et al. 2003). Global population trends have not been quantified, but the species is not believed to approach the thresholds for the population decline criterion of the IUCN Red List (i.e. declining more than 30% in ten years or three generations). For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Calcarius lapponicus is a widespread summer visitor to Greenland, Fennoscandia
and arctic Russia, with Europe accounting for less than a quarter of its global breeding
range. Its European breeding population is very large (>5,800,000 pairs), and was
stable between 1970-1990. Although the trend of the stronghold population in Russia
was unknown, the species remained stable in Greenland, Norway and Sweden during
1990-2000, and there was no evidence to suggest that it declined significantly overall.
Lapland Longspur is one of the most abundant breeding birds of the far north. Large yearly fluctuations make it difficult to assess population trends, but much of their breeding range is remote from human disturbance. Potential disturbance in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge could be a threat to the Lapland Longspur population.
Lapland Longspurs breed across North America, Greenland, and Eurasia in a circumpolar range mostly north of the Arctic Circle. They are the most numerous passerine birds on the Arctic tundra, reaching densities of about one breeding bird per acre.
Lapland Longspur status Least Concern


Autumn migration may begin as early as August, with the main flight in September to October. Lapland Longspurs spend the winter primarily in the central and northern Great Plains of southern Canada and north-central United States. They are most common in areas with agricultural crops of winter wheat or oats. They are gregarious during migration and in the main part of their winter range. Huge flocks numbering up to one million have been recorded. They are also found in much smaller numbers, often associated with pipits, Horned Larks and Snow Buntings, from northern California and British Columbia to the Atlantic Coast from North Carolina to Newfoundland. Winter habitat includes pastures, fields of stubble, airfields, coastal marshes and beaches. The number of observed migrants fluctuates during winter from year to year with the severity of weather and the abundance of food.

Distribution map

Lapland Longspur distribution range map

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