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Chestnut-collared Longspur

Calcarius ornatus

Length: 6 inches Wingspan: 10.5 inches Seasonality: Summer / Migrant
ID Keys: Male (summer) black below, rusty nape, black and white striped head, white edging on tail

Chestnut-collared Longspur - Calcarius ornatus The Chestnut-collared Longspur is a denizen of of the Northern Great Plains, breeding in areas of very short grasses such as very dry grasslands, grazed lands, recently disturbed lands, or in and around prairie dog towns. Summer males (see photo to the right) are strongly marked, and are made even more identifiable in flight by the white underside of the tail with a bold black triangle. They are migrants throughout South Dakota and breed in the northern part of the state.

Populations of Chestnut-collared Longspurs have plummeted in recent decades. Research shows they strongly prefer large grassland patches of at least 100 acres, with breeding attempts and breeding success greatly reduced in smaller grassland patches. The mass conversion of grassland habitats to agriculture have negatively impacted the species, both on their summer breeding grounds in the US and Canada, and on their wintering grounds in the southern US and Mexico. Indications from the Breeding Bird Survey are that they have declined by almost 90% since 1966, with declines continuing.


Chestnut-collared Longspurs breed in and around short-grassed prairies, typically in areas with short grasses, including areas that have been grazed or disturbed. The shorter grasses in and around prairie dog towns are often attractive to them, including outside of the breeding season. They may also be found in agricultural land when foraging, in migration, and in winter.


Seeds make up the overall majority of the diet throughout the year, and are the almost exclusive winter diet item.  Insects may make up to half of the summer diet. Grasshoppers are often a favorite prey species.


Walks and runs along the ground in search of insects, occasionally fluttering up a short distance to capture one in flight.  Also feeds on the ground for seeds.


May through July. Breeding begins with males arriving on the breeding grounds and attempting to attract females through courtship rituals. A courtship flight begins with a male flying up into the air, hovering and flying in circles, and then spreading his wings and tail and descending while singing. The nest is a depression on the ground, placed next to a clump of grass or other vegetation, and lined with grasses and feathers. The female lays 4-5 eggs and she alone incubates them. The young hatch after about 12-14 days, and fledge from the nest in another 12-14 days.

Song / Calls:

The song of a Chestnut-collared Longspur is a high clear warbling that descends at becomes more harsh at the end. A tzzzzip contact call is given that almost sounds like a very rapid trill. They also have a bubbling flight call.


Chestnut-collared Longspurs summer through the northern Great Plains, although their range is greatly reduced from historical times due to habitat loss.  They winter in the southwestern U.S., southern Great Plains, and Mexico.

Interactive eBird Map:

Click for access to an interactive eBird map of Chestnut-collared Longspur sightings  

Similar Species:

McCown's Longspur - Calcarius mccownii Lapland Longspur - Calcarius lapponicus Lapland Longspur - Calcarius lapponicus Smith's Longspur - Calcarius pictus
McCown's Longspur Lapland Longspur Lapland Longspur Smith's Longspur

Conservation Status:

The IUCN currently lists the Chestnut-collared Longspur as a "Vulnerable" species, which they downgraded from "Near Threatened" in 2017. Systematic surveys in the past few decades show severe declines in overall populations, with the Breeding Bird Survey showing almost a 90% decline since 1966. Populations declines are even more severe in the Canadian portion of their range, with an estimated loss of 95% of the total population in the last 50 years.

Habitat loss is the overwhelming reason for the decline. Huge areas of native grassland in the Great Plains have been converted to agricultural land uses, and lesser amounts to urban lands. Chestnut-collared Longspurs used to be relatively common breeding birds in parts of Nebraska, Kansas, and Minnesota, and now they're largely absent as breeding birds in those states. Habitat conversion continues to the present day, both in the US and Canadian portions of their breeding range, and also in their wintering range in Mexico. South Dakota itself has lost huge amounts of grassland/prairie in the last 20 years, as demand for biofuel and resulted in massive expansion of corn and soybean acreage.  In western North Dakota, the Baaken oil formation and the massive levels of extraction activity have heavily fragmented the landscape, resulting in fewer suitable large blocks of grassland for the species to breed. Total population trends continue to decline, and the long-term outlook is potentially dire.

Further Information:

Photo Information:

July 22nd, 2011 -- Harding County, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Audio File Credits:

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Chestnut-collared Longspur - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common summer breeding resident in much of the state, although just a rare migrant in the southeastern corner of the state.

Additional Chestnut-collared Longspur Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Chestnut-collared Longspur 1 - Calcarius ornatusChestnut-collared Longspur 2 - Calcarius ornatus