Longspurs are sparrow-like ground birds of open fields and tundra; the Smith’s is a particularly uncommon and secretive species. Breeding males have bold black and white markings on the head, with a rich, rusty-tan throat, breast, and nape. Females are duller overall, with light streaking on the breast and sides.
Most breed in areas uninhabited or sparsely inhabited by humans. Their cup-shaped nests are built in shallow depressions on the tundra or in grassy tussocks. They forage on the ground, mainly feeding on seeds, plus insects in summer.
Smith’s Longspur has a breeding system highly unusual for a songbird: each bird copulates with two or three others, which results in broods of mixed paternity. Two or more males may help the females feed nestlings.
This species may be vulnerable to changes in land use that would eliminate large open areas, and also to contaminants in these areas. These and other factors influencing survival during winter need further study.