lapland longspurt

A male Lapland longspur in his summer plumage. (Contributed photo by Gregory “Slobirdr” Smith)

Last week we visited a number of birds who spend their summers in the perpetual daylight of the arctic tundra and then spend their winters hanging out with us here. I haven’t seen our friend Downtown Snowy Owl this week, although I’ve seen the evidence he leaves all over the side stairs at the Daily Press building. We’ve also had some less-flashy arctic avian friends around and one of them that deserves more than a mention is the Lapland longspur.

These chunky little grassland lovers are easy to miss in the wintertime if you aren’t looking for them. They look a lot like sparrows at first glance when they’re dressed in their nonbreeding plumage. They also can be hard to distinguish from sparrows, snow buntings and horned larks without a pair of binoculars, and in the winter they tend to congregate with these species just to make things more complicated for birders. They and the other birds in their genus are named after their long, hooked hind claw. They don’t just summer in Scandinavia despite the Lapland part of their name; they breed all along the far remote Arctic and down through coastal and alpine Alaska in North America. In Eurasia they’re known by the less-alliterative name Lapland bunting, but they’re the same bird. They’re the only North American longspur found on other continents.

Morris mug

Sarah Morris