Locations and Conditions of Key Habitat
McCown’s Longspurs should be found in open shortgrass or heavily grazed mixed-grass prairie with little litter and low vegetation cover. Small-grain stubble fields and summer fallow fields are occasionally used. Often breed on high, barren hillsides with a southern exposure. Associated vegetation includes blue grama and buffalo grass. Nests are often placed near a clump of grass, shrubs, plains prickly pear, or a cowpie. Pairs often nest near each other and each territory requires 0.5-1.5 ha. Primary food includes seeds of grasses and forbs but also feed on insects and other arthropods.
Key Areas and Conditions for McCown's Longspur in North Dakota
The known tract of prairie used by breeding McCown’s Longspurs is a section of state school land in Bowman County. It is also referred to as the Rhame Prairie.
Problems Which May Affect this Species
Conversion of grassland to cropland, energy development and urban expansion. Degradation of grasslands from invasive plants, woody encroachment, succession, and loss of diversity. Specifically, the loss of expansive tracts of native shortgrass prairie habitat has resulted in the near extirpation of the species in North Dakota.
Other Natural or Manmade Factors
Rate or effect of brown-headed cowbird parasitism is not known. The application of some pesticides has been directly linked to the death of nestlings. The effect of human disturbance on nesting birds is unclear.
Research and Survey Efforts
Current Research or Surveys
- There is currently nothing specific to the species in North Dakota.
Previous Research or Surveys
- Little, if any, research or surveys specifically for McCown’s Longspur in North Dakota.
- Numerous published reports and gray literature on this species throughout its range.
Additional Research or Surveys Needed
Determine the breeding status or occurrence of McCown’s Longspurs in North Dakota. Population estimates likely overestimate the population size.
Population and Trend Estimates
- PIF Global Population Estimate: 600,000
- PIF North American Population Estimate: 600,000
- PIF North Dakota Population Estimate: unknown, estimated less than 500
- Survey-wide BBS Trend 1966-2012: -4.24
- • Protect known breeding sites from agricultural and urban development. • Provide areas with little litter, low forb cover, and short, sparse vegetation. • Graze areas where grass is too tall and thick. • Use prescribed burns in areas where fire has been suppressed.
According to the Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan, long-term population trend monitoring such as the Breeding Bird Survey is generally considered adequate, but may not account for some issues (e.g. bias). However, few BBS routes in North Dakota intersect with McCown’s Longspur possible range. Future monitoring proposals should follow recommendations North American Bird Conservation Initiative ‘Opportunities for Improving Avian Monitoring’.
The McCown’s Longspur remains a Level III Species of Conservation Priority. The species is in imminent danger of being extirpated from North Dakota.
Note: A listing of works consulted when compiling the information on this page may be found in the 2015 State Wildlife Action Plan.