Perching Birds

Smith's Longspur Smith's Longspur
Calcarius pictus


5 3/4-6 1/2" (15-17 cm). Sparrow-sized. Breeding male streaked dark brown and buff above, clear warm buff below; bold black and white head pattern. Small white wing patch, most evident in flight; tail black, with white outer feathers. Females and winter males duller and without head pattern, but always more buff-colored than other longspurs.


Dry rattle, like a finger running along the teeth of a comb.


Arctic tundra and forest edges; winters on open grassy plains.


3-5 pale brown eggs, spotted with darker brown, in a grass-walled hollow lined with plant down and feathers and concealed under a clump of grass or a dwarf willow.


Breeds from northern Alaska across northern Canada to Hudson Bay. Winters from Nebraska south to Texas.


Longspur identification is difficult in the Midwest, where all four species winter, but this species, clad in warm buff year-round, can be told at a glance. At times they are found in huge flocks moving over the dry winter grasslands in search of seeds, uttering a distinctive clinking call. A beautiful bird, the Smith's Longspur breeds at the treeline and, unlike the Lapland Longspur, which is truly a bird of open tundra, Smith's does not have a flight song but marks its territory by singing from the top of a small tree or hillock.