Calamospiza melanocorys (*)
Calamospiza melanocorys Stejneger, 1885
Fringilla bicolor Townsend
* Original Citation: The Auk 2 p.49
The Lark Bunting, Calamospiza melanocorys, is a medium-sized sparrow. It is monotypic, the only member of the genus Calamospiza (Bonaparte, 1838).
These birds have a small gray bill and a white wing patch. Adult males in breeding plumage are black except for their white wing patch. Other birds are more sparrow-like in appearance; they have dark brown upperparts and white underparts, with streaking on the back, breast and flanks. The wings are dark with brown edges.
Their breeding habitat is prairie regions in central Canada and the mid-western United States. The nest is an open cup on the ground in a grassy area.
These birds migrate in flocks to southern Texas and Mexico.
They forage on the ground, mainly eating insects in summer and seeds in winter; they sometimes take short flights in pursuit of insects. Outside of the nesting season, they often feed in flocks.
These birds nest in dispersed colonies. Males fly up over their territory and sing while descending to declare ownership of a nesting territory. The song consists of a mix of whistles and trills. The call is a soft hoo.
This bird's numbers have decreased with the loss of natural prairie habitat.
This is the state bird of Colorado.
* BirdLife International (2004). Calamospiza melanocorys. 2006. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. IUCN 2006. www.iucnredlist.org. Retrieved on 12 May 2006. Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concernThis species, of which there are in my possession several specimens, presented to me by my friend Mr. NUTTALL, was discovered by that zealous naturalist and his companion Mr. TOWNSEND on the plains of the Platte, and briefly characterized in the Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia. From its general appearance, and especially from what is known of its habits, I consider it closely allied to the Rice Bunting, Dolichonyx oryzivora; I have adopted the appellation given by its discoverers, the latter of whom has favoured me with the following notice respecting it.
"The Prairie Finch inhabits a portion of the Platte country, in large flocks. It is strictly gregarious, and feeds upon the ground, along which it runs like the Grass Finch, Fringilla graminea, to which it is somewhat allied. As the large flocks, consisting of from sixty to a hundred individuals, were started from the ground by our caravan in passing, the piebald appearance of the males and females promiscuously intermingled, presented a curious, but by no means unpleasing, effect. While the flock is engaged in feeding, the males are frequently observed to rise suddenly to a considerable height in the air, and poising themselves over their companions, with their wings in constant and rapid motion, they become nearly stationary. In this situation they pour forth a number of very lively and sweetly modulated notes, and at the expiration of about a minute descend to the ground, and course about as before. I never observed this bird to the west of the Black Hills."
Mr. NUTTALL'S notice respecting it is as follows:--"On the 24th of May, soon after crossing the north branch of the Platte, we met with this very interesting species of Fringilla. The males associated in flocks with the Cow-birds, uttering a most delightful song. Towards evening in particular, we sometimes saw them in all directions around us on the hilly grounds, rising to a little height, hovering and flapping their wings, at the same time singing something like weet, weet, wt, wt, wt, notes betwixt the hurried warble of the Bob-o-link, and the melody of the Sky Lark. It is in short one of the sweetest songsters of the prairie, is tame and unsuspicious, the whole employment of the little band being an ardent emulation of song."
FRINGILLA BICOLOR, Prairie Finch, Towns., Jour. Acad. Nat. Sc. Phil.,vol. vii. p. 189
PRAIRIE FINCH, Fringilla bicolor, Aud. Orn. Biog., vol. v. p. 19.
Head rather large; neck short; body full. Feet of ordinary length, rather strong; tarsus of moderate length, compressed, anteriorly covered with seven scutella, behind with two plates meeting so as to form a very thin edge; toes of moderate size, the hind toe stouter, the lateral equal. Claws rather long, arched, much compressed, laterally grooved, tapering to a very acute point.
Plumage soft and blended, the feathers ovate and rounded. There are distinct but small bristles at the base of the upper mandible. Wings of moderate length; the outer three quills nearly equal, the second being longest, the fourth slightly shorter than the third; outer secondaries broadly rounded and emarginate; inner tapering to a rounded point, one of them, when the wing is closed, little shorter than the outer primaries. Tail of moderate length, a little rounded, the lateral feathers shorter than the longest by two and a half twelfths.
The bill is light blue, the upper mandible somewhat dusky along the ridge; the feet and claws reddish-brown. The general colour of the plumage is greyish-black, the rump blackish-grey. The quills are blackish-brown, the inner secondaries black. There is a large patch of white on the wing including some of the smaller coverts, the tips of the first row, and the secondary coverts; the primaries and outer secondaries are narrowly, the inner secondaries broadly margined with white, with which most of them are also tipped. The middle tail-feathers are black, the rest brownish-black, all narrowly edged with white, and having a narrow speck of the same at the end of the inner web. Some of the feathers on the abdomen and the lower tail-coverts are also tipped with white.
Length to end of tail 7 inches; bill along the ridge (7 1/4)/12, along the edge of lower mandible 7/12; wing from flexure 3 5/12; tail 2 8/12; tarsus (11 1/4)/12, hind toe (4 1/4)/12, its claw (4 1/2)/12 middle toe 8/12, its claw 3/12.
The female, which is smaller than the male, differs greatly in colour. The bill is dusky above, pale beneath; the feet as in the male. The upper parts are greyish-brown, streaked with dusky brown, the lower white, with oblong spots of brownish-black, the abdomen nearly pure, the sides tinged with reddish-brown. The quills are dark brown, edged and tipped with reddish-white, and the patch on the wing is of the same tint. The tail feathers are also dark brown, the outer externally edged, and all tipped with white on the inner web.
Length to end of tail 6 1/2 inches; bill along the ridge (5 1/4)/12; wing from flexure 3 1/2; tail 2 5/12; tarsus 11/12; hind toe 4/12, its claw 4/12; middle toe (7 1/2)/12, its claw (3 1/4)/12.
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