Some of the most extensive grasslands on the continent remain in Northeast Montana. In winter, these lands lie under windblown snow. But in summer, the grass is verdant and grassland birds abound. Birds such as the Thick-billed Longspur (formerly known as McCown's Longspur), the Lark Bunting, and the Willet, like this one. And where do these birds go in winter? Thick-billed Longspurs migrate to west Texas and northern Mexico. Lark Buntings range in winter over much of northern Mexico and the adjacent US. Willets, however, seek out truly different winter habitat. They breed in prairie wetlands, but spend the cold months along Pacific coastal shorelines from Washington State south all the way through Central America!
Montana Grassland Birds – Where They Go in Winter
Written by Bob Sundstrom
This is BirdNote.
[Sounds of whistling wind]
Some of the most extensive grasslands on the continent remain in Northeast Montana. At this time of year, these lands lie under windblown snow.
But by early summer, the grass is verdant and grassland birds abound. Their sweet songs fill the warm air. Songs such as those of the Thick-billed Longspur (* formerly known as the McCown's Longspur) [longspur song]; Lark Bunting [Lark Bunting song]; and the Willet [“Western” Willet song].
Where do these exhilarating singers go in winter?
They’ve all gone south. The sparrow-like Thick-billed Longspurs migrate to West Texas and northern Mexico, where you might flush a winter flock from a grazed pasture or plowed field. Lark Buntings, a stocky sort of sparrow, range in winter over much of northern Mexico and the adjacent U.S. They turn up everywhere from farm fields to desert cactus. [Calls of Lark Buntings as ambient]
Willets, however, seek out truly different winter habitat. Large sandpipers that breed in prairie wetlands, Willets spend the cold months along Pacific coastal shorelines from Washington State south all the way through Central America. [Willet calls as ambient.]
For now, winter reigns over Montana’s grasslands. June may seem distant, but hearing the bird songs makes you know it’s worth the wait. [Thick-billed Longspur song]
Today’s show brought to you by The Bobolink Foundation.
For BirdNote, I’m Michael Stein.
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Thick-billed Longspur song  by G.A. Keller; Lark Bunting song  recorded by G.A. Keller; Lark Bunting call  (used for ambient) recorded by T. Johnson; Willet song  by G.A. Keller; Willet call  by M. Andersen.
BirdNote’s theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
Producer: John Kessler
Executive Producer: Chris Peterson
© 2015 Tune In to Nature.org December 2013/2017 Narrator: Michael Stein
ID# montana-01-2012-12-07 montana-01
* In August 2020, the American Ornithological Society announced the change of the name from McCown's Longspur to Thick-billed Longspur.