With the announcement today of the latest round of COSEWIC (Committee On the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada) assessments, Manitoba has gained yet another bird on the wrong list – the list of threatened species. And, not surprisingly the newly listed species is a grassland bird – the grassland specialist being probably the most threatened group of birds by habitat, at least in North America.
The species in question is the Chestnut-collared Longspur, a species that breeds in our native prairie (in Canada in Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba). The species has suffered severe population declines since the 1960’s. Like so many grassland birds, the Chestnut-collared Longspur is threatened by loss and fragmentation of native grasslands from the usual array of anthropogenic developments and their influences on the landscape.
More details on this new round of assessments can be found at http://www.cosewic.gc.ca/eng/sct0/index_e.cfm?#results
A few photos of the Chestnut-collared Longspur in community pastures with native hay in western Manitoba are included below. You can appreciate the rich colours of this well marked species but you will also notice in the first photo how the cryptic patterning on the back works well as camouflage in the grasslands. In the second and third photo you can see the elongated toes that gives the four species in the genus Calcarius their English name (longspurs). In Manitoba this species once bred as far east as Winnipeg, including at sites near the present day airport. Unfortunately, this species has not only declined in our province but also has experienced a dramatic collapse of the periphery of their range. These days, you need to go almost all the way to the Saskatchewan border to see one (at least to the Brandon area anyway). The same is true for other grassland specialists like Baird’s Sparrow, Burrowing Owl and Sprague’s Pipit. These birds are in urgent need of our assistance to try and win back the prairies that we are losing at such as alarming rate!