McCown's Longspur Rhynchophanes mccownii


One of the big surprises that has come out of the various projects looking into the molecular relationships of our birds has included the longspurs and snow buntings. These birds have always been non-controversial; they were clearly in the Emberizidae, the classic bunting group. Well, the molecular work tells another story, they form a cohesive group but they are an early lineage distantly related to various other families of small birds with 9 primary feathers! This means that the most logical manner to treat this group of birds is to give them their own family! This is why we now have the Calcaridae – the longspurs and snow buntings. Another surprise was that this species, the McCown’s Longspur, again nothing historically controversial about it, appears to be more closely related to the Snow and McKay’s buntings than to the other longspurs! Of all the longspurs, McCown’s is the odd one out, it has an odd bill shape, extreme tail pattern, a slightly odd plumage pattern; but no one thought it might be a southern offshoot of the Snow Bunting! This is also a reason this longspur was moved to its own genus, outside of Calcarius where the true longspurs are. Breeding in dry short grass prairie this longspur is migratory and heads south to winter in dry grasslands, and semi-desert grasslands in the south. Texas is a prime wintering area, but they also extend south into northern Mexico in grasslands of the Chihuahuan Desert. Here they may be found with Chestnut-collared Longspurs.

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© Geoffrey A. Keller

  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding

Recommended Citation

McCown's Longspur (Rhynchophanes mccownii), In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: