Nebraska Ornithologists' Union


Date of this Version



“Differential Use of Agricultural Fields and Rangeland Nesting Habitat by McCown’s Longspur (Calcarius mccownii) and Chestnut-Collared Longspur (Calcarius ornatus) in Western Nebraska” from Nebraska Bird Review (March 2009) 77(1).


Copyright 2009 Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union. Used by permission.


The Nebraska Natural Legacy Plan (NNLP) lists both McCown's Longspur and Chestnut-collared Longspur as Tier I and Tier II species of conservation concern, respectively (Schneider et al. 2005). McCown's Longspur is listed as a Tier I species (highest conservation priority) in Nebraska because of regional population declines (Schneider et al. 2005), and because it is also listed on the Partners in Flight WatchList (Fitzgerald and Pashley 2000). The breeding distribution of McCown's Longspur in Nebraska is suggested to be the westernmost counties of the Panhandle (With 1994), although limited information on the breeding ecology of this species exists for Nebraska. In fact, Mollhoff (2001) recorded McCown's nesting in only the westernmost Panhandle, specifically Kimball and Sioux Counties, although both geographic areas are believed to harbor sizeable breeding populations (Sharpe et al. 200 I). McCown's Longspur habitat is shortgrass prairie with short-stature vegetation with areas of intermixed bare round (With 1994, Mollhoff 2001, Sharpe et al. 2001). Threats to the regional population include habitat conversion and fragmentation, and management practices that maintain taller vegetation (Schneider et al. 2005).

In 2002 the Nebraska Prairie Partners (NPP), a cooperative partnership between the Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory (RMBO) and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission (NGPC), initiated surveys to identify the relative abundance and extent of the breeding distribution of Mountain Plover in Nebraska. One of these surveys was aimed at gaining access to private lands across the Kimball Grasslands Biologically Unique Landscape (BUL) and locating/marking Mountain Plover nests on agricultural fields. During these surveys, we routinely encountered McCown's and Chestnut-collared Longspurs displaying breeding and nesting behaviors (e.g., falling leaf display). We opportunistically recorded data on McCown's and Chestnut-collared Longspur nests during Mountain Plover nest marking surveys to gain knowledge of their distribution and nesting habits within Nebraska. We couple these data with data from section-based surveys conducted across western Nebraska by RMBO during the 2006 and 2007 field seasons, where both longspur species were also recorded along with general habitat data. The purpose of this paper is to provide information on nesting locations and general habitat information for both McCown's and Chestnut-collared Longspurs breeding in Nebraska.