Documentation of Chestnut-collared Longspur

Observer Information

Reporter:  John Rawinski  239 Cotten Ln.,   MONTE VISTA, CO  81144-9286
Other Observers:  None

Species, Date, Time and Location Information

Species:  Chestnut-collared Longspur
First Date/Time:  4/2/2022 9:30:00 AM
Last Date/Time:  4/2/2022 12:30:00 PM
Duration (total time in view):  2 hours
County:  Costilla
Specific Location:  Sanchez Reservoir State Wildlife Area
Number:  15
Age:  Multiple Birds - Mixed
Sex:  Multiple Birds - Mixed
Plumage:  Multiple Birds - Mixed


Severely overgrazed grassland due to hundreds of uncontrolled wild horses that reside in this area. It is grazed right to soil level.

Viewing Conditions

Optics:  Swarovski 8X32 Binocs
Distance:  As close as 50 feet.
Light:  Excellent. Sunshine from eastern sky or overhead

Description of the Bird

I was going fishing and birding was a secondary purpose. I decided to cut across the overgrazed prairie to fish the south end of the reservoir. I hadn't walked but a short distance from my vehicle when a group of 9 birds erupted from the prairie and began their soft trills in flight, circling me and eventually landing in a nearby location. I had no doubt these were longspurs as the closest kind of bird like pine siskin would not be in this habitat. Thus began my search and stalking this species for an excellent view and possible photos. As is usually the case, I had brought my junker camera for this fishing day, leaving the better Canon at home. Boy would I regret that! When the birds landed, they vitually disappeared from view? Even with everything overgrazed, they were very difficult to find and get close to. They were very flighty. In and amongst them were numerous Horned Larks and the birds in question were smaller than the Larks. 

This is the second occurence of this species in the San Luis Valley and a first-ever for Costilla County. (No records in ebird, R&A, Bailey & Niedrack, Kingery, Wickersham but found one record by Tyler Stuart, 3/27/2016 that was in the CBRC data base for Conejos County). I have kept a bird database for 40 years, and none of the many contributors to those records have ever reported CHLO. I did not bring my good camera. So for 2 hours, I worked this flock of very flight birds as they flew and landed. The birds were smaller than the many Horned Larks in the area maybe 5-6 inches long. They gave a series of shrill trills as they flew. The birds would land on the greatly overgrazed prairie (by hundreds of feral horses that roam the area) and then virtually disappear seemingly into the soil? Where did they go? They were very hard to find amongst the many horse droppings. Finally I got good looks after continual stalking. With a junker camera, I managed to get some decent shots of the birds. 

Females were compact, brown sparrow like birds, streaked backs, buffy mostly unstreaked undersides and plain buffy face with slight eye stripe. Male had a distinct white eye stripe and a black eyeline, white throat, buffy patch on cheek, pale throat that broke into solid black breast all the way down to the belly. A bright chestnut collar was visible in certain light. Back was brown and streaked. Crown was dark on male. The flock would flush, circle back to me, and in looking at the tail I saw white outer patches on the tail with an inner portion that was dark. Tail outer edge showed black. There were a few winter male birds too with less pronounced blackish breast and undersides. Initially, I worked a flock of 9 birds. Went fishing for a few hours and upon my return, tallied 15 of them at once.

There were breeding males, winter males and females in this flock. 

Similar Species Discussion

Thick-billed Longspur: Lacks the dark breast and belly of the CHLO.

Smith's Longspur: Also lacks black belly of male Chestnut-collared.

Lapland Longspur:Male will have a white belly. These males had a black belly 

Vesper Sparrow: Lacks the black breast and belly 

Resources Used

First I used Audubon Software on my smart phone. The black belly on the male in breeding plumage was clearly the bird I had seen. 

At home I consulted with National Geographic 7th Edition. 


To see how this bird was recorded in the past, I checked eBird, Righter and Andrews, Bailey and Niedrack, Kingery, Wickersham, and my own 40 years of record keeping. None had any record of this species in the San Luis Valley.  When I checked the CBRC website, I found one record by Tyler Stuart, 3/27/2016 for Conejos County. 

Previous Experience

On the Pawnee Grassland, I was on a tour years ago and got to see this species. Otherwise, not very many sightings. 


Have seen Smith's and Lapland in the past.  


Review of photos

Materials Available

Photographer: John Rawinski

Photos |


Date Documentation Submitted

4/8/2022 4:37:00 PM
Click left or right edges of photos to move through all; click outside image to close

Location Map

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