Calcarius ornatuschestnut-collared longspur

Geographic Range

Native to North American prairies, chestnut-collared longspurs, migrate annually between breeding and wintering grounds. Breeding grounds are located east of the Rocky Mountains in the Canadian Prairies (from Southeast Alberta to Southwest Manitoba) and Great Plains of the United States (Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota). Breeding areas are also found in eastern Wyoming and northeast Colorado, as well as in northwest Nebraska and western Minnesota, where populations have been greatly reduced. Chestnut-collared longspurs arrive at breeding grounds from March through May, and depart from mid-September through early-October. These birds winter from October through December in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, departing from February through April. The typical wintering range extends from eastern Arizona to central Kansas, then south through northwest Texas and northern Mexico. (Hill and Gould, 1997)


Breeding habitat is typically short/mixed grass prairie (mowed or grazed) with a vegetation height of less than 20 to 30 cm but can also include tall grass prairie, pastures planted with domesticated grasses, or airstrips. Nests have been found to be associated with nearby pats of dried-out, intact cow dung patties, though the reason for this is unknown. Though no preference for native grasses has been reported, nesting in exotic grasses has been reported to significantly reduce reproductive success. During migration, chestnut-collared longspurs can be found in grasslands and cultivated fields. Wintering habitat includes deserts, grasslands, plateaus and cultivated fields with a vegetation height of less than 0.5 m, and often includes watering sources. (Davis, 2005; Hill and Gould, 1997; Lloyd and Martin, 2005)

Physical Description

Chestnut-collared longspurs are the smallest of the four species in the genus Calcarius, which also includes Smith's longspurs (Calcarius pictus), McCown's longspurs (Calcarius mccownii), and Lapland longspurs (Calcarius lapponicus). A characteristic of all birds in this genus is a long, slender claw extending from the hind toe. Chestnut-collared longspurs range from 13 to 16.5 cm in length, with a mass of 18 to 25 g. They have long, pointed wings with a span ranging from 25 to 27 cm. Wing and tail measurements in males are significantly longer than in females (81 to 91 mm vs 76 to 85 mm, respectively). A distinct black triangle or fan pattern surrounded by white can be seen on the tail when in flight. Breeding males are distinguished by a deep chestnut hindneck with a black breast and crown, with cheeks and upper throat ranging in color from yellowish buff to white. In wintering males, buff colored feather tips obscure the black and chestnut colors on the head, neck, and breast. Breeding females have been described as relatively plain and sparrow-like, having grayish buff coloration with dusky streaks, and occasionally exhibiting a very dulled resemblance to males. Wintering females appear similar to breeding females but with buff feather tips. Juveniles of both sexes mirror adult females but have heavy streaking on breast, flanks, and crown. Chestnut-collared longspurs have a small, conical beak. (DuBois, 1937; Hill and Gould, 1997; Vuilleumier, 2009)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    18 to 23 g
    0.63 to 0.81 oz
  • Range length
    13 to 16.5 cm
    5.12 to 6.50 in
  • Range wingspan
    25 to 27 cm
    9.84 to 10.63 in


Chestnut-collared longspurs are socially monogamous but commonly engage in extra-pair copulation (second brood nests often contain extra-pair young). Female-female aggression may impede social polygyny in males. Males attract females through song and courtship displays involving tail and wing fanning, elevation of the head, erecting feathers on the back of the neck, and a series of head-bowing movements; males may also mimic female copulation posture as part of the courtship display. Females are often pursued in sexual chase, either by a mate or an intruder male. Females respond by flying to males, sometimes holding nesting materials. Copulation is initiated as the female throws her head back, flutters her wings, and lifts her tail. The male then mounts the female to make cloacal contact, though females may resist copulation by sitting on the ground. Social pair bonds last for one breeding season (occasionally through a subsequent season), but it is unknown if pairs remain together during migration and wintering. Pairs spend over 90% of their time within 10 m of each other before and during egg-laying. Agonistic behaviors related to mate defense are seen in both males and females as males chase off intruder males and females chase off intruder females. Female-female fights last much longer than male-male fights and do not desist upon the retreat of one of the parties. (Hill and Gould, 1997)

Most males begin to arrive at the breeding grounds 1 to 2 weeks before the arrival of the first females (females have been noted to be less likely to return to breeding sites; it is unknown whether this is due to to a lower survivorship or less site fidelity). After males establish territory, breeding pairs are formed. Pair copulation begins before the nest is built and continues for the duration of the building process as well as throughout egg-laying. The first brood of the season is generally between early to mid-May, with the second brood initiated 6 to 18 days after the first brood has left the nest; a new nest is built for each breeding attempt. In the event of nest failure, a female can build another nest in 4 to 12 days. As many as 4 clutches may be attempted by a pair within a breeding season after successive nest failures. Nests are constructed from grasses in a hollow (rim flush with the ground) excavated by the female. Typical clutch size is 3 to 5 eggs with an incubation period ranging from 10 to 12.5 days. Time from pipping to hatching is 1 to 1.5 hours; newly hatched young are altricial and covered in buff-gray down. By day 2, young begin to gape for food. By day 4, eyelids separate and young begin peeping very softly. By day 6, feathers break out of sheaths and young begin to respond to visual movement. Nestlings are able to call in response to parents by day 9. Young Chestnut-collared longspurs leave the nest 9 to 14 days after hatching but continue to receive food from parents up to 24 days after hatching, with the majority of fledgling care provided by the male. Age at first breeding is unknown. (Hill and Gould, 1997; Lynn and Wingfield, 2003)

  • Breeding interval
    Chestnut-collared longspurs typically produce 2 broods per breeding season, but have been known to produce 3 broods on occasion.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding occurs between late April to mid-May through mid-to-late July, but varies annually and geographically.
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 15
  • Range time to hatching
    10 to 15 days
  • Range fledging age
    9 to 14 days
  • Range time to independence
    24 (high) days

Nests are constructed solely by the female. They do the majority (95.3 %) of brooding and may brood for up to 50% of daylight hours during the first few days after hatching. Though males have been observed brooding, males are typically found perching near the nest during the incubation period and are known to aggressively drive off predators. Both parents contribute to caring for nestlings (shading during extreme heat, distraction display, foraging, and feeding). Parents continue to feed fledglings until about 24 days after hatching or 14 days after leaving the nest, after this time parents begin to ignore or aggressively chase away fledglings that continue to beg. If a subsequent brood is initiated, the female will cease or reduce care of the young and the male will provide the majority of fledgling care. Dead nestlings, eggshells, and fecal sacs are be removed from the nest by either parent, though eggshells and fecal sacs may also be eaten. (Hill and Gould, 1997; Lynn and Wingfield, 2003; Wyckoff, 1983)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • male parental care
  • female parental care
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


The record for the longest life of a chestnut-collared longspur in the wild is 4 years. (Hill and Gould, 1997; Vuilleumier, 2009)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    4 (high) years


Chestnut-collared longspurs are terrestrial birds that walk, run, and roost on the ground. They are also agile flyers that exhibit an undulating flight pattern. Both females and males may leave their territory during foraging trips, and will often bob their heads if they are foraging while walking. Chestnut-collared longspurs have been noted to frequently bathe in rain puddles, but have been observed dust-bathing as well. Aggressive interactions between males are common along territory boundaries early in the breeding season. During in-air fights, birds will beat each other with their wings and may also utilize their beaks and feet. Fights are often preceded and followed by threat displays, in which males in close proximity (less than 5 m) on the ground upstretch their necks and raise their bills away from one another at a 45 degree angle. Females will attack other intruding females (this has yet to be determined as territoriality or mate defense) as well. Female-female fights will generally last longer than male-male fights as female aggressors will continue to chase and peck even once the rival has retreated. Chestnut-collared longspurs are territorial during breeding season, but migrate and winter in flocks. During breeding season, they have been observed chasing horned larks (Eremophila alpestris), McCown’s longspurs (Calcarius mccownii), Baird’s sparrows (Ammodramus bairdii), and western meadowlarks (Sturnella neglecta) although they will associate with many of these species during migration and wintering as they congregate around sources of water. Chestnut-collared longspurs have also been observed chasing brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) which are well known nest parasites. (Hill and Gould, 1997)

  • Range territory size
    0.0025 to 0.04 km^2

Home Range

It is typical for adults to return to a breeding site in subsequent years. In one study, 85% of resighted males and 43% of resighted females were observed in previous territory. When males shift sites, it may be due to unsuccessful pairing. Females observed moving to a new territory moved twice the distance that relocating males did. Fidelity to wintering sites is unknown. (Hill and Gould, 1997)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

Chestnut-collared longspurs forage for seeds, insects, and spiders directly on the ground or by gleaning from vegetation and pulling ripe seeds from grasses. During breeding season, invertebrates comprise up to 72% of their diet, especially crickets (Gryllidae sp.), grasshoppers (Acrididae sp.), and beetles (Coleoptera sp.). Compared to other passerines, chestnut-collared longspurs feed a wider variety of invertebrates to their young, though grasshoppers make up the greatest proportion by far (>85%). It has been suggested that attempts by humans to reduce grasshopper populations for agricultural purposes through pesticide spraying greatly decreases egg success in this species, though it does not significantly decrease clutch size or nestling survival rate. Seeds, mostly grasses, make up 100% of chestnut-collaed longspurs' diets during the winter. (Hill and Gould, 1997; Martin, et al., 1998; Sedgwick, 2004)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts


Antipredator mobbing behavior has been observed in chestnut-collared longspurs, usually involving 4 to 8 birds. Females and brooding males will perform distraction displays when flushed from the nest. Nestlings and eggs suffer high levels of predation, which is also the greatest contributor to nest failure. Known predators of chestnut-collared longspurs include Cooper's hawks (Accipiter cooperii), burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia), coyotes (Canis latrans), northern harriers (Circus cyaneus), western rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis), American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos), merlins (Falco columbarius), American kestrels (Falco sparverius), loggerhead shrikes (Lanius ludovicianus), striped skunks (Mephitis mephitis), long-tailed weasels (Mustela frenata), deer mice (Peromyscus), pine snakes (Pituophuis melanoleucus), thirteen-lined ground squirrels (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus), badgers (Taxidea taxus), garter snakes (Thamnophis), Richardson's ground squirrels (Urocitellus richardsonii), and red foxes (Vulpes vulpes). (Hill and Gould, 1997)

Ecosystem Roles

The invertebrate-heavy breeding diet of chestnut-collared longspurs may help keep the density of herbivorous insects in check, while their seed-based wintering diet may have important effects on reproductive dynamics of plants. Chestnut-collared longspurs are prey to many species and also serve as hosts to fleas, blowfly larvae, mites, and chewing lice. Brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus ater) are also known to parasitize the nests of chestnut-collared longspurs. (Hill and Gould, 1997; Wiens, 1973)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • disperses seeds
Commensal/Parasitic Species

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Their predilection for feeding on grasshoppers, which are known to have deleterious effects on crops, suggests that chestnut-collared longspurs provide some level of benefit to agriculture. (Hill and Gould, 1997)

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of chestnut-collared longspurs on humans.

Conservation Status

The IUCN Red List has assessed chestnut-collared longspurs as Near Threatened. Major threats to this species include the loss of both breeding and wintering habitat to urban development and agriculture, parasitism by brown-headed cowbirds, and high levels of predation by many species. Currently there are no management actions in place regarding this species.

Other Comments

The first occurrence of the genus Calcarius in the fossil record is from a premaxillary fossil recovered from a late Pleistocene sink-hole ("the Jones Sink") in Meade County, Kansas. It was identified as most likely belonging to the Lapland longspur (Calcarius lapponicus), though it was noted that species specific distinction was not possible. (Downs, 1954)


Lani Manion (author), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Robert Sorensen (editor), Minnesota State University, Mankato, Jeremy Wright (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Catherine Kent (editor), Special Projects.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cooperative breeder

helpers provide assistance in raising young that are not their own

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


union of egg and spermatozoan


an animal that mainly eats seeds


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

male parental care

parental care is carried out by males


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


Bailey, A., R. Niedrach, A. Bailey. 1938. The Chestnut-Collared Longspur in Colorado. The Wilson Bulletin, 50/4: 243-246.

Davis, S., D. Klippenstine, R. Brigham. 2002. Does Egg Rejection Account for the Low Incidence of Cowbird Parasitism in Chestnut-Collared. The Auk, 119/2: 556-560.

Davis, S. 2005. Nest-Site Selection Patterns and the Influence of Vegetation on Nest Survival of Mixed-Grass Prairie Passerines. The Condor, 107/3: 605-616.

Downs, T. 1954. Pleistocene Birds from the Jones Fauna of Kansas. The Condor, 56/4: 207-221.

DuBois, A. 1937. Notes on Coloration and Habits of the Chestnut-Collared Longspur. The Condor, 39/3: 104-107. Accessed February 08, 2012 at ..

Hill, D., L. Gould. 1997. Chestnut-collared Longspur. The Birds of North America, 288: 1-20.

Kelly, J., D. Hawksworth, R. Meyer. 2006. Abundance of Non-Breeding Horned Larks and Chestnut-Collared Longspurs on Grazed andRested Semiarid Grassland. The Southwestern Naturalist, 51/2: 172-180.

Lloyd, J., T. Martin. 2005. Reproductive Success of Chestnut-Collared Longspurs in Native and Exotic Grassland. The Condor, 107/2: 363-374.

Lynn, S., J. Wingfield. 2003. Male Chestnut-Collared Longspurs Are Essential for Nestling Survival: A Removal Study. The Condor, 105/1: 154-158.

Martin, P., D. Johnson, D. Forsyth, B. Hill. 1998. Indirect effects of the pyrethroid insecticide deltamethrin on reproductive success of chestnut collared longspurs. Ectotoxicology, 7: 89-97. Accessed August 13, 2012 at

Price, 2012. "" (On-line). The Website of the International Society of Phthirapterists. Accessed August 13, 2012 at

Sedgwick, J. 2004. "Chestnut-collared longspur (Calcarius ornatus): A Technical Conservation Assessment" (On-line pdf). Accessed August 13, 2012 at

Spicer, G. 1978. A new species and several new host records of Avian nasal mites (Acarina: Rhinonyssinae, Turbinoptinae). The Journal of Parasitology, 64/5: 891-894.

Vuilleumier, F. 2009. Birds of North America. London: DK.

Wiens, J. 1973. Pattern and Process in Grassland Bird Communities. Ecological Monographs, 43/2: 237-270.

Wyckoff, A. 1983. Male "Incubation" in a Chestnut-Collared Longspur. The Wilson Bulletin,, 95/3: 472.