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Smith's Longspur, Steve Ogle
Photo © Steve Ogle

Photo: Steve Ogle
Breeding evidence - Smith's Longspur
Breeding evidence

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Smith's Longspur
Calcarius pictus

Click on plot to view table of mean abundance
Elevation range:
1350 - 1550 m
Conserv. status:
Global importance
of B.C. population:
Number of squares
ConfirmedProbablePossiblePoint counts
0 1 2 2
Long-term BBS trends
RegionYearsTrend (conf. interv.) Reliab.
BBS trends are not available for this species

Mean abundance by region

Bird Conservation Regions [plot]
NW Interior ForestBoreal Taiga PlainsGreat BasinNorthern RockiesN. Pacific Rainforest
Ecoprovinces [plot]
N. Boreal Mountains Taiga Plains Boreal Plains Georgia Depression Sub-Boreal Interior
S. Interior Mountains Central Interior Southern Interior S. Alaska Mountains Coast & Mountains

Mean abundance by habitat [plot]

Boreal Altai Fescue AlpineBoreal White and Black SpruceBunchgrassCoastal Douglas-fir
Coastal Mountain-heather AlpineCoastal Western HemlockEngelmann Spruce -- Subalpine FirInterior Cedar -- Hemlock
Interior Douglas-firInterior Mountain-heather AlpineMontane SpruceMountain Hemlock
Ponderosa PineSpruce -- Willow -- BirchSub-Boreal Pine -- SpruceSub-Boreal Spruce

Characteristics and Range Known for its unusual polygynandrous breeding system, where females mate with several males and produce clutches of mixed paternity, Smith's Longspur is an uncommon bird in British Columbia at any time of year. Briskie (2009) shows a breeding range that comprises two areas, a long strip of mainland arctic North America, from north-central Alaska to the southern coast of Hudson Bay at the interface between the tundra and the Boreal Forest, and a disjunct population at high elevations in St. Elias and adjacent mountains of east-central Alaska, southwest Yukon and northwest British Columbia. The species winters mainly in the lower Mississippi watershed.

Distribution, Abundance, and Habitat Atlas records of the Smith's Longspur come from just three 10-km squares in the Northern Boreal Mountains Ecoprovince, with probable breeding in one and possible breeding in two others. The distribution in British Columbia may be much wider than currently known: breeding is likely from high elevation sites over a large area of the Northern Boreal Mountains Ecoprovince (Campbell et al. 2001).

The province's most easily accessed population along the road through the Chilkat Pass was not detected during the Atlas period, despite significant observer effort. The site where the species bred in the 1970s and 1980s no longer appears suitable due to the rapid growth of willow (Salix) species (Cannings 2012). However, this portion of the province is large, poorly explored and it is likely that there is still undetected breeding in this westernmost portion of the Northern Boreal Mountains Ecoprovince.

Conservation and Recommendations A number of species that nest in northern British Columbia are so poorly known that their status is unclear, including Smith's Longspur. Increased biological survey effort at mid-high elevations in northern British Columbia would assist in increasing our understanding of these species. The global estimate for the Smith's Longspur is only 75,000 birds, and work is needed to determine the factors limiting survival and population size of this species (Briskie 2009).

David F. Fraser

Recommended citation: Fraser, D.F. 2015. Smith's Longspur in Davidson, P.J.A., R.J. Cannings, A.R. Couturier, D. Lepage, and C.M. Di Corrado (eds.). The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of British Columbia, 2008-2012. Bird Studies Canada. Delta, B.C. [14 Jul 2024]

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