McCown's Longspur
(Rhynchophanes mccownii)


Picture of bird
© Alan MacKeigan
For additional photos and vocalizations, visit Dendroica. (Link opens in a new window.)

In Canada, the McCown's Longspur breeds in dry grasslands in the southern prairie provinces. Breeding Bird Survey data indicate a dramatic, long-term decrease in the Canadian population, with an estimated 96% loss of abundance since the early 1970s. Significant declines have also occurred in the United States. In 2006, the species was listed as Special Concern under the Species at Risk Act. In 2016, the Committee on the Status of Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) recommended the status be up-listed to Threatened because of the substantial and continuing decline, which is mainly due to continuing loss and degradation of its grassland habitat on both its wintering and breeding grounds (COSEWIC 2016). This species has been identified as a priority for conservation and/or stewardship in one or more Bird Conservation Region Strategies in Canada.


Main designations for the species
DesignationStatusDateSubspecies, population
COSEWIC (Canada)Threatened2016 
SARA (Canada)Special Concern2007 
IUCN (Global)Least concern2018 
Partners in Flight (North America)Watch list - yellow D2017 
Wild Species (Canada)Vulnerable2015 
State of North America’s BirdsWatch list2016 
Bird Conservation Region StrategyPriority Species2013 

Population status

Geographic area or populationPopulation change relative to ~1970ReliabilityStatus in relation to goal
CanadaLarge DecreaseHighBelow Acceptable Level

Population estimate

Geographic area or populationPopulation estimate
Canada50,000 - 500,000 adults

Distribution maps


Migration strategy, occurrence

Short-distance migrant

Responsibility for conservation

Geographic areaResponsibility based on % of global population

General nesting period in Canada

Nesting period starts between early May and mid-May and ends between mid-July and late July, depending on the region. Before or after this period, the probability of an active nest is lower.

Conservation and management

The primary cause of their declining population is thought to be the loss and degradation of habitat resulting from conversion of native grasslands to agriculture (With 1994, Environment Canada 2014). McCown's Longspurs prefer very dry, short grassland and can usually tolerate heavy grazing pressure (With 1994). They also use croplands though the species uses conventional till and spring-planted crops more than minimum-till and fall-sown crops. Birds that breed in minimum-till crops may have higher productivity (Martin and Forsyth 2003). Other threats facing McCown's Longspur include agricultural effluents, oil and gas drilling, renewable energy and the associated habitat fragmentation from linear access corridors (COSEWIC 2016). There is growing evidence that habitat loss on the species' wintering grounds, especially in Northern Mexico, may have contributed to declines (Pool et al. 2013). For information on the legal status of this species under the Species at Risk Act (SARA) and to view available recovery documents, see the SARA Registry.


Bird conservation region strategies

Environment and Climate Change Canada and partners have developed Bird Conservation Region Strategies in each of Canada’s Bird Conservation Regions (BCRs). In these strategies, selected species are identified as priorities for one or more of the following reasons:

  • conservation concerns (i.e., species vulnerable due to population size, distribution, population trend, abundance, or threats)
  • stewardship responsibilities (i.e., species that typify the regional avifauna or have a large proportion of their range or population in the sub-region)
  • management concerns (i.e., species that require ongoing management because of their socio-economic importance as game species, or because of their impacts on other species or habitats)
  • other concerns (i.e., species deemed a priority by regional experts for other reasons than those listed above or because they are listed as species at risk or concern at the provincial level)

Select any of the sub-regions below to view the BCR strategy for additional details.

BCRs, marine biogeographic units, and sub-regions in which the species is listed as a priority
RegionSub-region and priority type
Prairie PotholesPrairie Potholes, sub-region and priority type: Prairie and Northern -- Conservation & Stewardship