Calcariidae – Longspurs & Snow Buntings

Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis ©DGE Robertson (Creative Commons) Website

Calcariidae is a small family of passerine birds. It includes longspurs and snow buntings. There are six species in three genera worldwide, found mainly in North America and Eurasia. They are migratory and can live in a variety of habitats including grasslands, prairies, tundra, mountains, and beaches.

Members of Calcariidae range in mass from around 20 grams (Chestnut-collared Longspur) to around 42 grams (McKay’s Bunting). Species have brown, grey, and white plumage, with dark brown or black irises. The legs of the snow bunting and McKay’s bunting are dark grey or black, while legs of other species in the family range from dull pink to brown.

Species List

DNA sequencing has revealed that this small group of 6 species formally lumped in with the Emberizidae is actually a family in its own right, the Calcariidae; the members of which are set out below:

McCown’s Longspur Calcarius mccownii
Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus
Smith’s Longspur Calcarius pictus
Chestnut-collared Longspur Calcarius ornatus

Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis
McKay’s Bunting Plectrophenax hyperboreus

Species Links
  • Chestnut-collared Longspur Calcarius ornatus

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Plectrophanes ornata J. K. Townsend, 1837, prairies of Platte River = near forks of Platte River, western Nebraska, USA. Molecular studies indicate that genus is basal to both the New World and the Old World emberizids, and closely related to Plectrophenax; has been suggested that these two genera and Rhynchophanes be placed in a separate family, Calcariidae. Present species has hybridized with Rhynchophanes mccownii. Monotypic.
  • Chestnut-collared Longspur Calcarius ornatus

    IUCN Species Status
    The population is estimated to be c.3,000,000 individuals (Partners in Flight Science Committee 2013).
  • Chestnut-collared Longspur Calcarius ornatus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Chestnut-collared Longspur Calcarius ornatus

    Species Account
    The chestnut-collared longspur (Calcarius ornatus) is a small ground-feeding bird from the family Calcariidae which also contains the longspurs.
  • Chestnut-collared Longspur Calcarius ornatus

    Cornell Species Account
    The black belly of the breeding male Chestnut-collared Longspur makes it stand out when proclaiming its territory on its short-grass prairie home. In other seasons the male is as drab and sparrow-like as the female.
  • Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus

    IBC Species Account
    Photos and video clips…
  • Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus

    Species Account
    The Lapland longspur (Calcarius lapponicus), also known as the Lapland bunting, is a passerine bird in the longspur family Calcariidae, a group separated by most modern authors from the Fringillidae (Old World finches).
  • Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus

    Cornell Species Account
    A common songbird of the Arctic tundra, the Lapland Longspur winters in open fields across much of the United States and southern Canada.
  • McCown's Longspur Calcarius mccownii

    Cornell Species Account
    A songbird of barren ground, the McCown's Longspur is found in shortgrass prairie and overgrazed pastures of the Great Plains.
  • McCown's Longspur Calcarius mccownii

    Species Account
    The McCown's longspur (Rhynchophanes mccownii) is a small ground-feeding bird from the family Calcariidae, which also contains the longspurs and snow buntings.
  • McCown's Longspur Calcarius mccownii

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • McCown's Longspur Calcarius mccownii

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Plectrophanes mccownii Lawrence, 1851, high prairies of western Texas, USA. Sometimes placed in genus Calcarius, and has hybridized with Calcarius ornatus, but apparently is closer in affinities to Plectrophanax. Has been suggested that those two genera be placed with present genus in a separate family, Calcariidae. Monotypic.
  • McCown's Longspur Calcarius mccownii

    Image
  • McKay's Bunting Plectrophenax hyperboreus

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Plectrophenax hyperboreus Ridgway, 1884, St Michael Island, south shore of Norton Sound, Alaska, USA.
  • McKay's Bunting Plectrophenax hyperboreus

    IUCN Species Status
    This species has been downlisted from Near Threatened because its population is estimated to be larger than previously thought and because there are not thought to be any plausible threats that could cause a rapid or very rapid decline in a short time period.
  • McKay's Bunting Plectrophenax hyperboreus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • McKay's Bunting Plectrophenax hyperboreus

    Species Account
    McKay's bunting (Plectrophenax hyperboreus) is a passerine bird in the longspur family Calcariidae. It is most closely related to the snow bunting (P. nivalis).
  • Smith's Longspur Calcarius pictus

    HBW Species Account
    Taxonomy: Emberiza (Plectrophanes) picta Swainson, 1832, Carlton House, on banks of the Saskatchewan River, Saskatchewan, Canada. Molecular studies indicate that genus is basal to both the New World and the Old World emberizids, and closely related to Plectrophenax; has been suggested that these two genera and Rhynchophanes be placed in a separate family, Calcariidae. Monotypic.
  • Smith's Longspur Calcarius pictus

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Smith's Longspur Calcarius pictus

    Species Account
    The Smith's longspur (Calcarius pictus) is a small ground-feeding bird from the family Calcariidae, which also contains the longspurs.
  • Smith's Longspur Calcarius pictus

    Cornell Species Account
    A brightly patterned songbird of the subarctic tundra, the Smith's Longspur winters only in the center of the United States.
  • Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis

    Species Account
    The snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis), sometimes colloquially called a snowflake, is a passerine bird in the family Calcariidae
  • Snow Bunting Plectrophenax nivalis

    RSPB Species Account
    Snow buntings are large buntings, with striking `snowy' plumages. Males in summer have all white heads and underparts contrasting with a black mantle and wing tips.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 6

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