Birds – Lapland Longspur

(Calcarius lapponicus) Finch family


Length—6.5 to 7 inches. A trifle larger than the English sparrow.

Male—Color varies with season. Winter plumage : Top of head black, with rusty markings, all feathers being tipped with white. Behind and below the eye rusty black. Breast and underneath grayish white, faintly streaked with black. Above, reddish brown with black markings. Feet, which are black, have conspicuous, long hind claws or spur.

Female—Rusty gray above, less conspicuously marked. Whitish below.

Range—Circumpolar regions; northern United States; occasional in Middle States; abundant in winter as far as Kansas and the Rocky Mountains.

Migrations—Winter visitors, rarely resident, and without a fixed season.

This arctic bird, although considered somewhat rare with us, when seen at all in midwinter is in such large flocks that, before its visit in the neighborhood is ended, and because there are so few other birds about, it becomes delightfully familiar as it nimbly runs over the frozen ground, picking up grain that has blown about from the barn, when the seeds of the field are buried under snow. This lack of fear through sharp hunger, that often drives the shyest of the birds to our very doors in winter, is as pathetic as it is charming. Possibly it is not so rare a bird as we think, for it is often mistaken for some of the sparrows, the shore larks, and the snow buntings, that it not only resembles, but whose company it frequently keeps, or for one of the other long-spurs.

At all seasons of the year a ground bird, you may readily identify the Lapland longspur by its tracks through the snow, showing the mark of the long hind claw or spur. In summer we know little or nothing about it, for, with the coming of the first flowers, it is off to the far north, where, we are told, it depresses its nest in a bed of moss upon the ground, and lines it with fur shed from the coat of the arctic fox.