Birds – Smith’s Painted Longspur

(Calcarius pictus) Finch family

Length—6.5 inches. About the size of a large English sparrow.

Male and Female—Upper parts marked with black, brown, and white, like a sparrow; brown predominant. Male bird with more black about head, shoulders, and tail feathers, and a whitish patch, edged with black, under the eye. Underneath pale brown, shading to buff. Hind claw or spur conspicuous.

Range—Interior of North America, from the arctic coast to Illinois and Texas.

Migrations—Winter visitor. Without fixed season.

Confined to a narrower range than the Lapland longspur, this bird, quite commonly found on the open prairie districts of the middle West in winter, is, nevertheless, so very like its cousin that the same description of their habits might very well answer for both. Indeed, both these birds are often seen in the same flock. Larks and the ubiquitous sparrows, too, intermingle with them with the familiarity that only the starvation rations of mid-winter, and not true sociability, can effect ; and, looking out upon such a heterogeneous flock of brown birds as they are feeding together on the frozen ground, only the trained field ornithologist would find it easy to point out the painted longspurs.

Certain peculiarities are noticeable, however. Longspurs squat while resting ; then, when flushed, they run quickly and lightly, and “rise with a sharp click, repeated several times in quick succession, and move with an easy, undulating motion for a short distance, when they alight very suddenly, seeming to fall perpendicularly several feet to the ground.” Another peculiarity of their flight is their habit of flying about in circles, to and fro, keeping up a constant chirping or call. It is only in the mating season, when we rarely hear them, that the longspurs have the angelic manner of singing as they fly, like the skylark. The colors of the males, among the several longspurs, may differ widely, but the indistinctly marked females are so like each other that only their mates, perhaps, could tell them apart.