The small and newly created family Calcariidae (longspurs, Snow Bunting and McKay’s Bunting) has only six species, four of which nest in the Arctic and subarctic and two which are endemic to the North American Great Plains, i.e. they nest in the northern prairies and overwinter primarily in the Chihuahuan desert grasslands. Both the prairie species, McCown’s Longspur and the Chestnut-collared Longspur, as with so many grassland birds, are declining at alarming rates. The Chestnut-collared Longspur has lost an estimated 85% of its population and a significant portion of its former breeding range since the mid 1960s. The primary cause of this decline is believed to be habitat loss, which has occurred and which continues to occur, on both the breeding grounds and the wintering grounds.
The Chestnut-collared Longspur was uplisted to Endangered in Canada in 2019 (COSEWIC 2019) and is internationally listed as Vulnerable to global extinction (Birdlife International 2020). The plight of this striking and unique grassland bird is intricately linked with the fate of the prairie grasslands of the mid continent. As this species is reliant on relatively short, dry grasslands and because it has evolved with grazing as a dynamic ecosystem process that shapes grassland structure and biodiversity, well-managed cattle and bison grazing is a vitally important conservation tool in our efforts to prevent its extinction.
Primary Habitats:Breeding: Grasslands - temperate grassland
Wintering: Grasslands - Chihuahuan grassland, prairie
Agricultural Conversion, Changing Rangeland Conditions, Energy/Resource Extraction, Invasive Species
Population Change Since 1970: -85%
Urgency/Half Life: 21 years
Global Conservation Status: IUCN 2016-3 Red List – Near Threatened
U.S. Conservation Status: N/A
Canadian Conservation Status: Threatened (COSEWIC 2009); Threatened (SARA 2012)
Birds of Conservation Concern: USFWS – Bird of Conservation Concern
|Region||Area Importance||Long-term Population Change||Half Life|
|Prairie Pothole Joint Venture||40%||-86%||17 years|
|Northern Great Plains Joint Venture||35%||-84%||19 years|
|Prairie Habitat Joint Venture||22%||-93%||17 years|
|Intermountain West Joint Venture (W)||AI = 5||***||***|
|Rio Grande Joint Venture||AI = 5||***||***|
|Sonoran Joint Venture (W)||AI = 5||***||17 years|
*** indicates insufficient or unreliable data to calculate a regional long-term change or half-life estimate.
(W) indicates the region supports a significant wintering population of this species.
Support grassland conservation programs such as the Species at Risk Partnership on Agricultural Lands (SARPAL) and land trusts and other NGOs trying to conserve grasslands (through conservation easement, rancher support, purchase, etc.)
As a landowner, inquire about and adopt the management guidelines developed in your region (if such exist; see: http://www.nagrasslands.org/about/)
As a landowner, inquire about assistance to remove encroaching shrubs and aspen that reduce the spatial area of grasslands
Support and promote suitable management of native prairie (for biodiversity) on public lands
Species Conservation Plans:
Somershoe, S. G. (editor). 2018. A Full Annual-Cycle Conservation Strategy for Sprague’s Pipit, Chestnut-collared and McCown’s Longspurs, and Baird’s Sparrow. U.S. Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington, D.C.
Pool, D. B., et al. 2012. Chihuahuan Desert Grassland Bird Conservation Plan, version 1.0. Rocky Mountain Bird
Observatory, Brighton, CO, RMBO Technical Report I-RGJV-11-01. 74 pp.
Sedwick, J.A. 2004. Chestnut-collared Longspur (Calcarius ornatus): a technical conservation assessment [Online]. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Region.
Key Species References:
Peer Reviewed Papers:
Ellison, K., et al. 2017. Migration and winter distribution of the Chestnut-collared Longspur. Animal Migration 4:37-50.
Bleho, B., K. Ellison, D. P. Hill and L. K. Gould. 2015. Chestnut-collared Longspur (Calcarius ornatus). The Birds of North America. Edited by P. G. Rodewald. Retrieved from: https://birdsna.org/Species-Account/bna/species/chclon DOI: 10.2173/bna.288.
COSEWIC. 2019. Chestnut-collared Longspur species profile. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Retrieved from: https://wildlife-species.canada.ca/species-risk-registry/species/speciesDetails_e.cfm?sid=1064#ot18
Shaffer, J.A., and DeLong, J.P., 2019, The effects of management practices on grassland birds—An introduction to North American grasslands and the practices used to manage grasslands and grassland birds, chap. A of Johnson, D.H., Igl, L.D., Shaffer, J.A., and DeLong, J.P., eds., The effects of management practices on grassland birds: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1842, 63 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/pp1842A.
Environment and Climate Change Canada. 2016. Recovery Strategy for the Chestnut-collared Longspur (Calcarius ornatus) in Canada
Agriculture and Agro-Food Canada. 2010. Management of the Canadian Prairie Rangeland
Saskatchewan’s Prairie Conservation Action Plan. 2019. Guide to Managing for optimal habitat attributes: Chestnut-collared Longspur
Guidelines (Alberta): http://multisar.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/grassland-birds-BMP-website.pdf
Guidelines (Colorado): http://www.rmbo.org/pubs/downloads/bmp.pdf
Review of guidelines: https://pubs.usgs.gov/pp/1842/a/pp1842A.pdf