Land Bird Conservation Plan Colorado  

Overview of Colorado
Physiographic Region 36

  • Grasslands
  • Lowland Riparian
  • Shore/Bank
  • Wetlands

  • Physiographic Region 62
    Physiographic Region 87
    Implementation Strategies
    Literature Cited

    Physiographic Region 36: Central Shortgrass Prairie

    McCown's Longspur (Calcarius mccownii)

    Associated Species: Other species that may use habitat in a similar way and/or respond similarly to threats, management, and conservation activities include Mountain Plover and Horned Lark.

    Distribution: McCown's Longspurs inhabit grasslands from southeastern Alberta east to southern Saskatchewan, south through central North Dakota to northeastern Colorado. Within Colorado, they breed primarily in northern Weld and northeastern Larimer counties.

    Habitat Requirements: These birds breed in shortgrass, especially where vegetation cover is sparse due to low soil moisture or grazing, or is interspersed with shrubs or taller grasses. They also nest in grazed mixed-grass prairies. Individuals often use sparsely-vegetated hilltops for displaying and nesting. They require areas of bare soil and often place nests on barren hillsides. Territories in Colorado averaged 45-79% shortgrass and 13-23% bare ground, with little or no forb or cactus cover and few woody plants (although nests initiated late in the season are more likely to be near shrub cover, perhaps for protection from solar radiation). Longspurs breed in loose colonies.

    Ecology: Longspurs arrive in Colorado in late March, and often linger into November. They initiate nesting by mid May, and most young fledge by mid July. Attempts to produce second broods may account for their extended residence in Colorado. They winter in the southern U.S. and northern Mexico. Their diet consists primarily of grass and forb seeds, but also includes grasshoppers, moths, beetles, and ants.

    Management Issues and Conservation Recommendations: Conversion of native prairie to cropland or other land cover types can reduce longspur populations. Preserve native shortgrass prairie, especially in areas of sparsely-vegetated hills, a favored nesting site for this species.

    Cattle grazing and prescribed burning may help create the short vegetation profile favored by longspurs. Graze shortgrass at moderate intensity in summer, and graze taller grasses at moderate to heavy intensity.

    Tall, exotic grass species do not provide suitable habitat for this species. Avoid planting taller grasses on CRP and other lands.

    Status and Reasons for Concern: This species has a high conservation need locally and throughout its range; it is on the national Watch List. This species is not adequately sampled by BBS surveys within the shortgrass physiographic area, and the data collected between 1966 and 1996 are too sparse to allow meaningful analysis of trends. McCown's Longspurs were present on an average of 9.71% (SE = 1.39) of the BBS routes run in Physiographic Area 36 in Colorado during 1988-1997, at an average abundance of 2.88 (SE = 0.74) individuals per route. The mean number of routes run each year was 29.2 (SE = 2.28). This species is monitored by MCB with tracking transects.

    Biological Objective: Maintain or increase the species' distribution and abundance, based upon results of the BBS and MCB monitoring programs.

    Selected References: Andrews and Righter 1992, Creighton 1974, Creighton and Baldwin 1974, Dechant et al. 1999, Graul 1980, Kingery 1998, With 1994.

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