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Lapland Longspur Plumage

1-20-15  lapland longspur IMG_6760The 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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6 responses

  1. That’s amazing – a dandy in disguise!
    Do they hang out in large flocks here in Vermont?

    January 20, 2015 at 8:19 am

    • Yes, but biggest numbers are in the Champlain Valley!

      January 20, 2015 at 4:30 pm

  2. That is truly amazing! Amazing! I don’t think I’ve ever seen a longspur.

    January 20, 2015 at 9:50 am

  3. Although e-bird has them listed all along the CT River Valley, I can’t recall ever seeing one. I will have to look closer at the sparrow-like birds I infrequently see. We are more wooded with only one or two large fields nearby, which apparently they prefer. We might not have the right habitat for them.

    January 20, 2015 at 7:40 pm

  4. Jeff Klein

    I saw a flock numbering about 50 in Wabasca Alberta today, May 21, 2016

    May 21, 2016 at 6:40 pm

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