Lapland bunting.

 Source: Courtesy of The USFWS who have placed it in the Public Domain


The Lapland bunting belongs to the order of birds known as the Passeriformes {perching birds} and the family Emberizidae within that order. They have been given the genus name of Calcarius which derives from Latin and means spurs. The specific name of lapponicus is after Lapland in northern Scandinavia.

In the UK they are placed on the Amber list of conservation concern due to their small breeding population. There is an estimated 710 individuals in winter.The European population is estimated at 5,800,000 to 11 million pairs { Including Russia and Greenland.}

Populations vary from country to country ,here are a few selected examples. Greenland 500,000-1,000,000 Breeding pairs. {BP}. Finland 20,000-50,000 BP. Norway 200,000-500,000 BP. Russia the population is not known but it is thought to be one of the birds strongholds . Sweden 100,000-400,000 BP

North American species that bear the name bunting are classed with the Cardinals.

Taken in Oklahoma USA.

 Taken in Oklahoma USA.

Source: Courtesy of Patricia Velte CC BY-SA 2.5 Generic License.

What are buntings ?

Buntings are seed eating birds with thick conical bills and for all intents and purposes the equivalent of the American Sparrows. They are not however, closely related to the 'Old world' sparrows of the family Passeridae.

They were once included with the Finches whose habits are very similar to those of the Buntings. In America some of this family Emberizidae are still named as Finches rather than Buntings. On the other hand some retain the name bunting,which are now classed in the Cardinal family among which is the Painted Bunting and Indigo Bunting.

Many have been allocated the genus name of Emberiza. However, the Snow bunting** is placed in the genus Plectrophenax, while the subject under review the Lapland Bunting {Lapland Longspur} is placed in the genus Calcarius to which family the Calcariidae the Long -spurs belong. The Longspurs ,the name alludes to the long claw on the hind of each foot, are all found in North America,while our subject is also found in Europe and Asia.

As always we will commence with a description of the subject under review.

Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. Richard Crossley.
 Crossley's ID Guide to Britain and Ireland. Richard Crossley.
Source: Courtesy of princetonnature. CC BY-SA 3.0  license

Description of the Lapland bunting.

At a glance-- In summer the male has a black cap,face and breast. A bright rusty nape,streaky brow,back wings and tail. White belly . Pale stripe curves down from behind the eye. The bill is yellow.

The male in winter. The pale head patterning replaces the prominent black of the summer plumage.

In more detail---The bill is yellow ,blackish at the tip. In winter it becomes brownish yellow. From its base a narrow streak of white passes downwards till it nearly joins one which proceeds from above the eye. The iris is dark brown or chestnut in colour. A reddish or brownish white streak runs backwards from it and then descends along the sides of the neck to the breast where it joins the white of that part. It is palest near the bill.

The forehead,crown and back of the head a rich black the feathers broadly edged wioth brownish red or greyish white at the autumnal moult. Those at the base of the bill black,the sides of the head reddish,spotted with black.The neck in front black,deepest in summer.On the back a light reddish brown mixed with greyish white in winter . the nape is a light chestnut brown. The chin,throat and breast above are black.The feathers strongly edged with greyish white in the winter after the autumnal moult. Below is a dull white colour,streaked and spotted with blackish on the sides,which become brownish in the autumn.

 The back is a bright chestnut brown and grey on the upper part,with blackish spots,the remainder of the feathers are dark brown,with reddish brown edges and each feather is dusky along the shaft. The greater and lesser wing coverts,blackish brown with a broad margin of reddish,some of the latter tipped with white. The primary feathers,blackish edged with reddish white,with light coloured narrow margins on the outer webs, the first the longest.

The secondary feathers are blackish brown edged with a broad margin that is reddish. The tail which is forked is blackish brown with reddish or greyish edges to the feathers, the two outer with a white wedge-shaped spot at the end of each of the inner web, and the whole of the outer one of that colour. The upper tail coverts are dark brown,the edges of the feathers reddish brown. The legs and toes, brownish black or black ,probably according to the season. The claws are black, the hind claw nearly straight and longer than the toe. After the autumn moult, when in the 'transition state' the male resembles the female.

The female has the yellowish or reddish white stripe behind the eye duller than that of the male,and it unites with a white line which proceeds from the corner of the bill. The head on the crown and neck on the the back is a mixture of reddish and black the feathers edged with pale reddish brown and grey.

 On the lower part of the front and on the sides it is brownish grey,tinged with red in summer,and longitudinally streaked with a blackish colouring. The nape is chestnut brown, the feathers tinged with white.The chin is greyish white,throat white or greyish white in summer, the white not so pure as in the male,bordered on the sides by a broad band. The breast is blackish above, the feathers edged with pale brown and grey, below it is whitish, with numerous grey and black spots,and longitudinal spots on the sides. There is a tinge of grey and a little red on the lower part.

The back is reddish grey,with black spots,as the head on the upper part,and on the lower,whitish tinged with grey and a little red in summer. The tail, blackish brown, the outer edge and part of the inner web at the end of the side of the feathers,brownish white,of which there is a small oblique mark at the end of the second feather. The under tail coverts,whitish tinged with grey and a little red.

 Two similar species are the Reed bunting and the Yellowhammer, both of these species are featured on this site.

General and historical information.

In summer the Lapland Bunting is a bird of remote wild places and in the UK it is more familiar as a winter or autumn migrant, when it appears along the coasts in grassy places, such as Golf Courses, Sand Dunes, and around the grassier parts of the Salt Marsh. occasionally birds are seen in Scotland in the summer. Along the coast they may be encountered from November until March.

It is a common song bird in the Arctic Tundra and they winter in open fields across much of the USA and southern Canada. they are a ground foraging species,they feed on seeds and insects. They give a natural preference to the sterile of the north, when the whole scene is wild and desolate and none but the most scanty vegetation clothes the mountainous and hilly situations. It moves southward to avoid the severe weather.

It's flight when roused is described as being quick and buoyant, but for the most part it is to be seen on the ground where it runs along ,holding its body as do its relatives the Larks,in an inclined position, intent on the main part of its life , procuring food. If a bird of prey appears while it is on the wing it will alight and crouch on the ground. the food consists of the seeds of Arctic and Alpine plants supplemented by insects when these are obtainable. The note of this bird is described by Meyer as sounding like the syllables 'chtirr and twee',and it utters it more while on the wing than when perched. In addition the male has a rather pleasing song.

Records reveal that upwards of forty examples were apparently obtained previous to 1890,since Selby first recognized the bird among some larks forwarded to Leadenhall Market from Cambridgeshire,early 1826 Since 1890 this species seems to have visited more frequently {or may have been recognized more frequently}.

 In October and November 1892, J.H.Gurney stated that at least 56 were netted and shot in Norfolk. In the following year considerable numbers were encountered on the Lincolnshire coast,a good many being recorded as having passed along the downs in February. In November of the same year a flock of 60-80,was recorded near Flamborough by Mathew Bailey,and later a flock of from 100-200 by J.Cordeaux. Finally in the Zoologist for 1894 the Rev. Macpherson stated that in the southern counties a few had been annually taken for the past dozen years or so,near Dover, but that in November 1893,only three were caught near Brighton.

Seebohm's, account of this species is on record. he states " In the Valley of Petchora we did not meet with it at Ust Zylma until the 18th of May,and in the Valley of the Yenesay on the Koorayika a solitary Lapland Bunting appeared for the first time on the 4th of June,-in each case at least six weeks after the arrival of the Snow bunting.** In both cases I had an excellent opportunity of watching their habits."

" The first to arrive were males,principally in company of Shore Larks. They passed through on migration for about a fortnight, the latter flocks being almost entirely composed of females. They seemed entirely ground feeders and ran about very actively wherever there was any bare ground. But before the snow had entirely disappeared the Lapland bunting had also taken their departure and we did not meet with them again until we had passed the limit of forest growth."

 " On migration they repeatedly perched in trees and when disturbed generally sought refuge in trees. Like the Snow bunting and the Shore lark the Lapland bunting occasionally hops. Its flight is quick and powerful; but more undulating than that of the Snow bunting. In its song the Lapland Bunting reminds me of the Snow Bunting and the Tree Pipit**. The notes are not very loud but are musical and are continued for some time "

Herr Gatke stated that this species,in its character, is all together unlike the Snow bunting, having nothing of the boisterousness and wildness of that species,but being of a gentle and quiet disposition. Naumann put on record that these birds are frequently caught and killed for food and that their flesh is delicate and agreeable.

Mabel Osgood Wright making her notes.

Photograph taken by her Husband.

 Photograph taken by her Husband.

Source: Public domain WikiCommons

Historical observation of the Lapland bunting in the USA.

Mabel Osgood Wright in her book 'Birdcraft' 1897, writing of this species in America refers to the species as the Lapland Longspur and says-

" When we are fortunate enough to see them he is wearing his winter dress which resembles somewhat the plumage of the Titlark. I always encounter them in February near the shore.I was fist attracted by the unusual claw marks in the snow,where it was soft enough to take distinct impressions,under the south side of the rick of salt hay. The mark of the long claw or spur,could be seen plainly. On the opposite side of the rick were the birds themselves,seven in all.They were climbing up the sloping sides, picking out seeds from the coarse grasses and weeds,which served as a covering for the finer hay."

" The Longspurs and the Horned Larks that were with them,were so hungry and intent upon feeding that they were not in the least disturbed even though they must have seen me plainly. The lack of fear produced by hunger often gives the winter birds an air of charming familiarity, and though both winter residents and visitors are comparatively few, a little food,suited to their various needs,wisely scattered about the door and around the hay ricks and sheds,will bring you a troop of graceful guests to whisper cheerfully, even if they do not sing to you"

Keeping wild birds was once a popular pastime

Lapland bunting in captivity.

In the days before it became illegal to keep wild birds in captivity { with a few licensed exceptions} bird catchers made a good living by capturing birds in any way available {mainly by netting} and they sold them to those that kept aviaries or cage birds or indeed sold them as an article of food at the markets. The following paragraphs are from a period of time in our avian history.

Butler, 1898, an experienced bird keeper made the following notes on this species. "I Have frequently for years kept it confined in a cage,and its melodious, if somewhat melancholy ,tune has given me much enjoyment during many a summer night at my desk over these pages. The song of the Snow bunting has exactly the same character,but the melodious,flute-like notes are fuller and the bird in confinement will only give utterance to them during the first hours of June and July nights. Snow buntings remain, however, so utterly intractable ,crying like one possessed when any person approaches its cage, that it is impossible to make friends with it,and one generally ends by once more giving the peevish little fellow his liberty."

" The Lapland bunting, on the other hand, ceases fluttering after one or two weeks in confinement if one keeps renewing its food,and soon becomes so tame that it will take food from the finger. It also invariably accomplishes its autumn moult to perfection,and in a very short time"

Stevenson, 'Birds of Norfolk' seems to agree he writes " Unlike most birds when confined to a cage, it seemed perfectly at home,feeding readily on the seed placed for it,and both inits gait and manner of looking up,with the neck stretched out reminded me of the action of a Quail** "

 In the aviary of Mr.J.H.Gurney, this bird assumed its full plumage in the following spring,and thrived so well in its new abode,that over feeding was probably the cause of its death in May 1856,when for the second time,it had acquired the black head and plumage of the breeding season,and was certainly perfect lump of fat when skinned for the purpose of preservation"

Butler on the subject gave this advise -" The food of this species consists largely of insects in summer and seeds in winter, but in confinement it should be treated like other buntings. It is undoubtedly the most desirable of all the British buntings for the aviculturist and should certainly be freely imported as a cage bird"

Lapland bunting { longspur}-female

Taken at Wager Bay Canada.

 Taken at Wager Bay Canada.

Source: Courtesy of Ansgar Walk. CC BY-SA 2.5 Generic license

Breeding nest and eggs.

The nest of this species is placed on some hillock in low marshy places,among moss and stones,and is composed of grass stems,neatly woven and lined with feathers. Dr Richardson claims they breed in moist meadows on the shores of the Arctic sea,and on marshy parts of the Tundra.

The female deposits five to six eggs of a pale yellowish brown colour, spotted all over with brown. She will incubate them for 11-13 days and they fledge in a further nine to ten days. 

Eggs of the Lapland bunting {Longspur}

 Source: Courtesy of Didier Descouens. CC BY -SA 3.0 unported license.

UK conservation status-2021

UK-Amber list due to declines in population/distribution over the last fifty years or so.

Europe-Species of least concern. 

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