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McCown's Longspur Calcarius mccownii


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McCown's Longspur, breeding male
credit: Jerry Oldenettel/CCSA

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Family: Emberizidae, New World Sparrows view all from this family

Description ADULT BREEDING MALE Has buff and black streaks on back and gray-brown wings with a striking chestnut band (median coverts). Grayish white head has black cap and malar stripe, and very pale throat and eye surround. Has black crescentlike patch on breast and otherwise mostly pale gray underparts, palest on undertail coverts. ADULT NONBREEDING MALE Recalls breeding male, but black elements of plumage have pale feather fringes. ADULT FEMALE Recalls nonbreeding male, but has streaked brown crown and brown breast; palest in winter. JUVENILE Recalls winter female, but is streaked below and scaly-looking above.

Dimensions Length: 5 3/4-6" (15 cm)

Habitat Local summer visitor (mainly Apr-Aug) to short-grass prairies and more barren open ground, such as pastures; winters in similar habitats.

Observation Tips Worth visiting on breeding grounds.

Range Southwest, Western Canada, Rocky Mountains, Plains, California, Texas

Voice Song is a varied jumble of scratchy warbles; call is a rattling ch't't.

Discussion Male is distinctive. All birds have mostly white tail with black inverted "T" (central stripe and terminal band); courting male uses this in aerial display. Forms flocks outside breeding season. Conical bill is dark in breeding male, but pinkish in all other birds. Sexes are separable.