Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2013-04

Common name:

McCown's Longspur

Scientific name: Calcarius mccownii
Date: 6 Jan 2013
Time: 9:15 AM
Length of time observed: 1-2 min
Number: 1
Age: immature or female
Location: Fields north of Ogden Bay WMA, south of Harold S Crane SWMA, and west of Ogden. Roughly 8900W, along 900S.
County: Weber
Distance to bird: Medium distance. 50 yards? Close enough to see details well when at high magnification in a spotting scope.
Optical equipment: Leica spotting scope with zoom eyepiece.
Weather: Very cold, in the positive single-digits F, and cloudy.
Light Conditions: Overcast/cloudy.
Description:        Size of bird: About the size of the Horned Larks and Lapland Longspurs nearby.
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Similar to Lapland Longspur but somewhat bulkier; appeared a bit plumper and with a (slightly) relatively larger head.
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: Generally a pale tan/sandy color. See below for details.
(Description:)            Bill Type: Longspur-type bill, largish for a longspur, but noticeably pink.
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
Drab, likely a first-winter bird. Bulkier than Lapland Longspurs and with relatively bigger head, but about the same total size. Overall pale brownish color. Head subtly marked, especially compared to the well-marked Lapland Longspurs, with a distinct tan supercilium bordered softly by darker brown. Very little contrast between the rear auriculars and the nape. Distinctly pinkish bill. Head pattern was much like a female House Sparrow but with dark margins to the pale white or light brown malar. Greater coverts were somewhat patterned with lighter tan and medium brown, but did not show any of the rufous of a Lapland Longspur's greater coverts. No rufous was visible in the median coverts, which were generally pale brown, indicating that this was not an adult male. When I saw the bird, its body and tail were mostly obscured by a slight rise in the snow, but the head, breast, and wing coverts were clearly visible. Doug Gochfeld and Mike Hearell each had a better view of the same bird's spread tail and noted broad white sides to the tail bordering a blackish central "T".
Song or call & method of delivery: None noted to come from this individual.
Behavior: Feeding on the ground among several hundred Horned Larks, about 9 Lapland Longspurs, and about 3 Snow Buntings in open snow-covered field with some weeds and grasses sticking out.
Habitat: Open snow-covered field with some weeds and grasses sticking out of the snow.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
A female House Sparrow is superficially similar but lacks the somewhat darker line separating the pale throat from the pale malar. House Sparrows also lack the black "T" on white tail, which I did not personally observe but which was seen by two others. House Sparrows are also very unlikely to be seen foraging in the middle of a large field among Horned Larks.

Lapland Longspurs are similar in shape and habitats, but different in plumage. About nine Lapland Longspurs were present for comparison. Even first winter female Lapland Longspurs have distinctly rufous greater coverts, which this bird lacked. The facial pattern is also much more distinct on a Lapland Longspur, with the rear auriculars framed in dark brown or black and clearly distinct from the nape. Lapland Longspurs have white borders to the tail, but the amount of white seen by others in the tail of this bird and the distinct black T shape in the tail further eliminate Lapland Longspur.

Smith's Longspurs have a generally more yellow/buffy/rufous color, not the sandy brownish-tan of this McCown's. They also have thin but distinct white wing bars that were not shown by this bird, and they have a more distinct pattern on the face.

Chestnut-collared Longspurs are probably the most difficult species to eliminate, but they can be ruled out here by the lack of contrast between the rear auriculars and the nape on this bird. Also, the median coverts of this bird had little pattern and were low contrast, where the median coverts of a Chestnut-collared Longspur are higher contrast in all plumages. Finally, the bill of a young female Chestnut-collared Longspur is smaller and more gray, whereas this bill was distinctly pale pink and relatively large for a longspur.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
This is my first observation of a McCown's Longspur. I have seen Chestnut-collared Longspur on one occasion. I have seen hundreds or thousands of Lapland Longspurs, several in Utah but mostly while working as a birding guide in Alaska.
References consulted: Sibley Guide to Birds.
Description from: From memory
Observer: Ryan O'Donnell
Observer's address: 1098 Crescent Dr, Logan, Utah
Observer's e-mail address: **
Other observers who independently identified this bird: First spotted and identified by Doug Gochfeld, a visiting birder from New York who let me see the bird through his scope, and also seen by Mike Hearell. Others were present but unfortunately the flock was flushed by a Northern Shrike before we could get anyone else on the bird, and the flock resettled too far to the north to relocate this bird.
Date prepared: 7 Jan 2013
Additional material: