It can feel like there’s nowhere to hide in the shortgrass prairie. But the Thick-billed Longspur calls this place home. The bird’s burbling song helps create the high plains’ soundscape. The species was formerly named McCown’s Longspur after a Confederate general who participated in genocide against Native Americans. In 2020, after pressure from the “Bird Names for Birds” movement and others, the species was renamed for its thick bill, which is pale on females and black on breeding males.
Written by Conor Gearin
This is BirdNote.
In the shortgrass prairie of eastern Montana, it can feel like there’s nowhere to hide, especially in a pasture that’s just been grazed by cattle. But many birds call this region home, including the Thick-billed Longspur.
[Thick-billed Longspur song, ML 191119, 0:17-0:22]
The bird’s long, burbling song helps create the summer soundscape of the high plains. Male Thick-billed Longspurs sing in short display flights, showing off the white undersides of their wings.
[Thick-billed Longspur song, ML 191119]
The species was formerly named McCown’s Longspur, after John McCown, a Confederate general who participated in genocide against Native Americans. In 2020, after pressure from the “Bird Names for Birds” movement and others, the species was renamed after its distinctive thick bill, which is pale and pinkish on females and black on breeding males.
Males also have black chests and crowns, while the females have a faintly colored breast and brown-streaked heads. A pair of longspurs often raises two broods of eggs together in the summer. In very low grass, they often tuck their nest beside a prickly pear cactus.
The bird’s range has shrunk since 1900 due to loss and degradation of shortgrass prairie habitat. You can help protect the Thick-billed Longspur by supporting grassland conservation. Start at our website, BirdNote dot ORG. I’m Ariana Remmel.
Senior Producer: John Kessler
Content Director: Allison Wilson
Producer: Mark Bramhill
Managing Producer: Conor Gearin
Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York. Thick-billed Longspur ML 191119 recorded by W. Hershberger.
BirdNote’s theme was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and John Kessler.
© 2022 BirdNote May 2022 Narrator: Ariana Remmel
ID# TBLO-01-2022-05-06 TBLO-01