The Lapland Longspur, named for the unusually long claw on its hind foot, breeds in the Arctic tundra and overwinters near fields throughout the northern half of the U.S. in flocks numbering up to four million birds.
Lapland Longspurs have two distinctly different plumages, especially the males. Their winter plumage (see photo) is streaked brown and somewhat dull. However, in the summer, the male’s plumage is very dramatic (see insert). The back of his neck, or nape, is bright rufous orange and black feathers form a distinctive facial mask and bib, bordered by a white stripe.
Unlike most birds with different breeding and non-breeding plumages, longspurs molt only once per year, in the fall, into their non-breeding plumage. How can the males look so different in the breeding season if there isn’t a second molt? By spring, the outer tips of these feathers have worn off to reveal the males’ (and females’, but to a lesser degree) distinctive breeding plumage underneath. (Insert photo from public domain)
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