Sunday Inspiration – Calcariidae – Longspurs and Snow Buntings

McCown's Longspur (Rhynchophanes mccownii) ©Flickr oldbilluk

McCown’s Longspur (Rhynchophanes mccownii) ©Flickr oldbilluk

“Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:” (Matthew 7:24)

After the many postings for the Thraupidae Family, nine to be exact, this week’s family only has six species. This is the next to last avian family in the Passeriformes Order. Since there are so few, more information will be given. [Added a video of a small kid’s choir to accompany the slideshow.]

McCown’s Longspur (Rhynchophanes mccownii) is a small ground-feeding bird from the family Calcariidae, which also contains the longspurs and snow buntings. McCown’s was named after Captain John P. McCown, an American army officer.

This longspur has a large cone-shaped bill, a streaked back, a rust-coloured shoulder and a white tail with a dark tip. In breeding plumage, the male has a white throat and underparts, a grey face and nape and a black crown. Other birds have pale underparts, a dark crown and may have some black on the breast. The male’s song is a clear warble. The call is a dry rattle.

In winter, they migrate in flocks to prairies and open fields in the southern United States and northern Mexico. They prefer areas with sparser vegetation than those chosen by the Chestnut-collared Longspur. These birds forage on the ground, gathering in flocks outside of the nesting season. They sometimes make short flights in pursuit of flying insects. They mainly eat seeds, also eating insects in summer. Young birds are mainly fed insects. This bird breeds in dry short grass prairies in central Canada, (the Canadian Prairies), and the north central United States. The female lays 3 or 4 eggs in a grass cup nest in a shallow scrape on the ground. The male sings and flies up to defend his territory. Both parents feed the young birds.

Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus) by Daves BirdingPix

Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus) by Daves BirdingPix

Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus) is a robust bird, with a thick yellow seed-eater’s bill. The summer male has a black head and throat, white eyestripe, chestnut nape, white underparts, and a heavily streaked black-grey back. Other plumages have a plainer orange-brown head, a browner back and chestnut nape and wing panels.

Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus) ©WikiC

Lapland Longspur (Calcarius lapponicus) ©WikiC

It breeds across Arctic Europe and Asia and in Canada and the northernmost United States. It is migratory, wintering in the Russian steppes, the southern United States, Northern Scandinavian arctic areas and down to coastal Southern Sweden, Denmark and Great Britain. This is the only Eurasian species of the longspur buntings.

The bird is often seen close to the tree line, and likes to feed in mixed-species flocks in winter. They pick them on the ground, rarely feeding directly on plants. Its natural food consists of insects when feeding young, and otherwise seeds. The nest is on the ground. 2–4 eggs are laid. During the breeding season, the birds migrate to the north, where their diet switches to arthropods. Nestlings are only fed arthropods, which also constitute the diet of the parents at that time of the year (June to July). The birds often catch insects in mid-air, but do forage through vegetation when conditions prevent the insects from flying. Longspurs can consume between 3000 and 10,000 prey items (insects or seeds) per day, depending on their energy needs.

Smith's Longspur (Calcarius pictus) USFWS

Smith’s Longspur (Calcarius pictus) USFWS

Smith’s Longspur (Calcarius pictus) have short cone-shaped bills, streaked backs, and dark tails with white outer retrices. In breeding state plumage (mostly formed by worn basic plumage), the male has a pumpkin-orange throat, nape, and underparts contrasting with an intricate black-and-white face pattern. The white lesser coverts are quite pronounced on a male in spring and early summer. Females and immatures have lightly streaked buffy underparts, dark crowns, brown wings with less obvious white lesser coverts, and a light-colored face. The tail is identical at all ages. Audubon named this bird after his friend Gideon B. Smith.

 Smith's Longspur (Calcarius pictus) cc rgibbo3

Smith’s Longspur (Calcarius pictus) cc rgibbo3

This bird breeds in open grassy areas near the tree line in northern Canada and Alaska. The female lays three to five eggs in a grass cup nest on the ground. These birds nest in small colonies; males do not defend territory. In winter, they congregate in open fields, including airports, in the south-central United States.

Migration is elliptical, with northbound birds staging in Illinois in the spring and southbound birds flying over the Great Plains in the fall. These birds forage on the ground, gathering in flocks outside of the nesting season. They mainly eat seeds, also eating insects in summer. Young birds are mainly fed insects.

Chestnut-collared Longspur (Calcarius ornatus) WikiC

Chestnut-collared Longspur (Calcarius ornatus) WikiC

Chestnut-collared Longspur (Calcarius ornatus is a small ground-feeding bird that has a short conical bill, a streaked back and a white tail with a dark tip. In breeding plumage, the male has black underparts, a chestnut nape, a yellow throat and a black crown. Other birds have light brown underparts, a dark crown, brown wings and may have some chestnut on the nape.

This bird breeds in short and mixed grass prairies in central Canada and the north central United States. The female lays 4 or 5 eggs in a grass cup nest in a shallow scrape on the ground. The male sings and flies up to defend his territory. Both parents feed the young birds. In winter, they migrate in flocks to prairies and open fields in the southern United States and Mexico and they forage on the ground, gathering in flocks in winter. They mainly eat seeds, also eating insects in summer. Young birds are mainly fed insects.

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) by Ian

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) by Ian

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) is sometimes colloquially called a snowflake, is apasserine bird in the Calcariidae family It is an Arctic specialist, with a circumpolar Arctic breeding range throughout the northern hemisphere. There are small isolated populations on a few high mountain tops south of the Arctic region, including the Cairngorms in central Scotland and the Saint Elias Mountains on the southern Alaska-Yukon border, and also Cape Breton Highlands. The snow bunting is the most northerly recorded passerine in the world.

They are a medium size, ground-dwelling species that walks, runs and could potentially jump if needed. It is fairly large and long-winged for a bunting. The bill is yellow with a black tip, and is all black in summer for males. The plumage is white in the underparts and the wings and back have black and white on them. The female and male have a different plumage. During the mating season: the male is completely black and white with black tips in the wings, while the female will have the same coloration than the male in the wings but will have a red-brownish color in her back. During the winter season they will both have a rufous coloration in the back. In the spring, the buntings will not go through a molt as other passerines birds do, instead the breeding coloration comes with the wearing and abrasion of the feathers. Unlike most passerines, it has feathered tarsi, an adaptation to its harsh environment. No other passerine can winter as far north as this species apart from the common raven.

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) Flock ©WikiC

Snow Bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis) Flock ©WikiC

The snow buntings migrate to the Arctic to reproduce and they are the first migrant species that arrives to these territories. They must gain at least 30% of body mass before migration. The males will arrive first at the beginning of April, when temperature could reach -30 degrees Celsius. This early migration could be explained by the fact that this species is highly territorial and the quality of the nesting area is crucial to their reproductive success. Females will arrive four to six weeks later, when the snow starts to melt.

The range of the family is extensive. Of the six species within the family, the snow bunting and Lapland longspur are found both in both North America and Eurasia; the other four species are found only in North America. The snow bunting breeds in northern latitudes in an extensive breeding range which consists of northern Alaska and Canada, the western and southern coasts of Greenland, and northern Scandinavia and Russia. The snow bunting winters throughout southern Canada and the northern United States in North America, and its Eurasian range includes the northern United Kingdom and a large band extending from Germany west through Poland and Ukraine to Mongolia and China.[9][10] Additionally, the snow bunting has been recorded as a vagrant to Algeria and Morocco in North Africa, the Balkans, Greece and Turkey, and Malta. The Lapland longspur’s range is similar to that of the snow bunting, breeding in northern Canada, Scandinavia, and Siberia, and coastal Alaska and Greenland and wintering in the northern United States and Canada, and in a band between approximately 45° and 55° latitude across Russia, Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia to the Sea of Japan.

McKay's Bunting (Plectrophenax hyperboreus) ©USFWS

McKay’s Bunting (Plectrophenax hyperboreus) ©USFWS

McKay’s bunting (Plectrophenax hyperboreus) is most closely related to the snow bunting (P. nivalis). Hybrids between the two species have been observed, leading some authorities to treat McKay’s as a subspecies of snow bunting. As the Plectrophenax buntings are nested within the Calcarius clade, their closest relatives are the longspurs. McKay’s bunting breeds on two islands in the Bering Sea, St. Matthew and Hall islands, and winters on the western coast of the U.S. state of Alaska. The name honors the American naturalist Charles McKay.

This species closely resembles Snow Bunting in all plumages, but is whiter overall. The breeding plumage of the male is almost purely white, with only small areas of black on the wingtips and tail. The breeding female has a streaked back. Non-breeding birds also have warm brown patches on cheeks, crown, and the sides of the neck. McKay’s bunting is larger on average than the snow bunting. It is 18 cm (7.1 in) long and weighs from 38 to 62 g (1.3 to 2.2 oz), with an average of 54.5 g (1.92 oz). It nests on shingle beaches in hollow drift logs and rock crevices. Winters on coastal marshes, shingle beaches, and agricultural fields. Feeding habits are thought to be similar to snow bunting, which in winter consumes seeds from weeds and grasses, and in summer has a mixed diet of seeds, buds, and insects. (Information taken from Wikipedia with editing.)

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“He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth, and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth; against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6:48-49)

“House on A Rock” ~ by the Summer Kid’s Choir (They are not very loud, so I decided to let you watch them)

A small choir to go with this small family.

More Sunday Inspirations

Calcariidae – Longspurs, Snow Buntings

Story of the Wordless Book

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One thought on “Sunday Inspiration – Calcariidae – Longspurs and Snow Buntings

  1. Pingback: Bluethroat nest on video | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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