Sprague’s Pipit

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Photo (1): Sprague's Pipit

Anthus spragueii, SPPI

Size and Shape

L: 6.5”  WS” 10”  WT: 0.88oz  Medium-sized sparrow-like songbird.

Colour Pattern

Dark streaked back and crown with tan edges.  White wing-bars on ends of secondaries.  Face is pale and buffy with darker ear coverts.  Has a necklace of fine brown streaks on its buff breast, but no streaks on the flanks.  Legs are pale pink.  Slight moustachial stripe makes it look like it has baggy eyes.  Extensive white on outer tail feathers.

Juvenile:  Back is brown scaly with white edges, white wing bars are thicker, and has a very pale grey eye ring (not quite a perfect ring as with water birds).

Behaviour

Longest flight display of any songbird—usually, they will remain high up in the air for about ½ hour or longer.  Feeds on insects, spiders and some seeds, crouching in the grass.  It is very difficult to see on the ground, but near-impossible to miss its distinctive call in the air.

Call

Flight: at high altitude, a rolling, jingling cascade of shirl shirl shirl… also gives a sharp, slightly nasal squeet; reminiscent of sharper calls by Barn Swallow (according to Sibley’s, but I don’t really see what they’re on about…)

Habitat

Shortgrass praries with bare ground.

Could Be Confused With

American Pipit: APPI has less white on tail feathers, and has a grey back instead of brown.  Has more distinctive supercilium contrast.  Similar shirl song, but does not descend in pitch.

Vesper Sparrow: streaks extend to flanks, reddish epaulettes, thicker beak which is half the thickness of its length, unlike SPPI, which is a quarter the thickness of its length.  Call is very different.

Macaulay Library Links

http://macaulaylibrary.org/search?location_id=&location_type_id=&location=&recordist=&recordist_id=&catalogs=&behavior=&behavior_id=&tab=audio-list&taxon_id=11992966&taxon_rank_id=67&taxon=spragues+pipit

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