WatchList Species Account for Smith’s Longspur
(Calcarius pictus)

Qualifies for the list as a Declining Yellow List Species


Smith's Longspur by Pete Morris
Photo: Peter Morris

Smith’s Longspur has a breeding system highly unusual for a songbird: each female copulates with two or three males, which in turn copulate with two or more females. This results in broods of mixed paternity where two or more males may help the females in feeding nestlings.


The bird’s breeding range is subarctic tundra bordering the northern edge of the treeline in Alaska and across Canada to the shores of Hudson’s Bay, where it breeds in low densities in wet sedge meadows with low hummocks of conifers and heaths. In winter the Smith's is limited to the south-central U.S. as far north as central Iowa in pastures and airport fields, where it feeds on seeds of grasses and weeds.


An uncommon bird, its world population has been estimated at no more than about 75,000 individuals. No data on trends is available. Most breed in areas uninhabited or sparsely inhabited by humans but in winter on areas of intense human use. It may be vulnerable to changes in land-use that would eliminate large open areas and also to contaminants in these areas. Factors influencing survival during nonbreeding also need study.