Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Lapland Longspur - Calcarius lapponicus
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General Comments This is the only one of the four species of longspur that is not of accidental occurrence in the state. Lapland Longspurs breed abundantly in the Arctic tundra, and migrate in large flocks into the center of the continent. Small numbers make it south to North Carolina, at the southeastern edge of the winter range; however, it is unpredictable from week to week, and numbers tend to be scarce in warmer winters. Nonetheless, there might be a few areas of extensive plowed fields in the northern third of the Coastal Plain that host a few each winter. In the Piedmont, it is more scarce, and in the mountains even more so. Longspurs are mainly found by persons who intentionally look for them, by birding at huge plowed fields, sometimes where Horned Larks are regular. They also occur in low dunes along the coast, and at large areas of short grass (such as sporadically at the Charlotte Motor Speedway parking areas -- at least formerly).
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank S1N
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Winter visitor, and possibly winter resident (regular from winter to winter) in a few areas. Rare to locally uncommon in a few areas of the Tidewater zone, mainly west of Lake Phelps, as well as the northern third of the inland portions (south to Rocky Mount); perhaps regular, and in numbers, at Occoneechee Neck (Northampton). Rare visitor to the northern coast, and very rare farther south along the coast. Casual to very rare elsewhere inland, though several winter records from the Laurinburg-Maxton Airport (possibly regular there?). Mainly late Oct to early Mar. One photographed at Cape Hatteras Point (Dare) on 5 Jun 2023 was exceptionally late. Quite early was one at the southern end of Oregon Inlet (Dare) on 13-14 Oct 2023. Peak counts: the three largest counts have been west of Lake Phelps from 1986-1988, with the peak being 90 on 30 Dec 1988.
Piedmont Winter visitor. Very rare to rare across the region, with no regular wintering sites. Certainly occurs in small numbers in the region each winter, but few people search for them, and extensive plowed fields are not common. Most regular, oddly because this site is in the southern Piedmont, at the Charlotte Motor Speedway parking areas in Cabarrus (at least formerly). A group of three were present in Union, not far from the SC border, from 4-20 Feb 2024. Mainly early or mid-Nov to late Feb or early Mar. One report from 9 May 1981 is an "outlier" and, if correct, would be the latest date for the state. Peak counts: 7, Harrisburg at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, 17 Dec 1985.
Mountains Winter visitor. Very rare, essentially in lower elevations in wide valleys, though four were seen at Max Patch [mountain] in Madison on 22 Mar 2014, and one was seen at 5,800 feet on Round Bald just east of Carvers Gap (Mitchell) on 10 Nov 2014. Most recent records are from fields along Hooper Lane (Henderson). One photographed at the Biltmore Estate (Buncombe), 4-7 Nov 2019, might be a first record for that well-worked county. Mainly mid-Nov to late Feb. A report of a female on 12 Aug 1990 is bound to be a mis-identification. Peak counts: a remarkable 100, Hooper Lane, 6 Dec 2003.
Finding Tips Though a scarce bird in the state, a diligent birder can at times find the species over a several-day period by looking in a handful of very large plowed fields in the northern half of the Coastal Plain, such as west of Lake Phelps, or in Occoneechee Neck -- but always amid large flocks of Horned Larks, or to a lesser extent, American Pipits. Unfortunately, in recent years, road access has been blocked to the area west of Lake Phelps where it was routinely seen, and there has been little searching for longspurs in Occoneechee Neck in the past few decades.
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Attribution LeGrand[2024-05-14], LeGrand[2024-02-11], LeGrand[2023-10-20]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.