Illinois Natural History Survey - University of Illinois

Sprague's pipit
Anthus spragueii

 

Taxonomy
Occurence in Illinois
Status
Habitat associations
Guilds
Food-habits
Environmental associations
Life history
Management practices
References


TAXONOMY

 

  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Motacillidae
  • Genus: Anthus
  • Species: Anthus spragueii
  • Authority: Audubon

Comments on taxonomy:
Other names: Missouri skylark; prairie skylark; titlark.

 


OCCURENCE IN ILLINOIS

Rare migrant. Rare winter resident in southern Illinois *00*.

 


STATUS

Items in bold indicate applicable categories
Forest Service Categories: S = recommended for regional sensitive status, F = forest listed species, M = management indicator species

Federal Status:

Endangered Threatened Proposed for listing
Candidate for proposal Recovery plan approved Recovery plan received (USFWS)
Recovery plan in preparation Under notice of review Delisted
Migratory EPA indicator Forest Serv.- Shawnee species

State Status:

Endangered Threatened Proposed

Other:

Game Furbearer Nongame protected
Sportfish Commercial Pest None of the above

Comments on status:
Sprague's pipit is protected by the Illinois wildlife code of 1971 *03* and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918 *04*.

 


HABITAT ASSOCIATIONS

Items in bold indicate applicable categories

General habitat:

Unknown Terrestrial Aquatic Riparian

USFS timber inventory forest size class:

Unknown Unstocked Seedling Sapling
Seedling/sapling Pole Mature Over mature

Land use and land cover:

Unknown   Urban Residential
Commercial
Industrial
Transportation, communication
Complex industrial/commercial
Mixed
Other
Agricultural Crop, pasture
Orchards, groves, nurseries
Feedlot
Other
Rangeland Herbaceous
Shrub and brush
Mixed
Forestland Deciduous
Evergreen
Mixed
Water Stream
Lake
Reservoir
Bay
Wetland Forest
Non-forest
Barren Salt flat
Beach
Sand
Rock
Mine
Transit
Mix

 


Forest cover types: No records.

Associated tree species: No records.

National wetland inventory classifications: No records.

Comments on species-habitat associations:
Found in short grass fields, prairies, pastures, fallow fields, weedy fields *01,02,05,06,07*.

 

High value habitats

HabitatStructural stageSeason
Agricultural land
Cropland and pasture
Agricultural field
Abandoned cropland
Not applicable (HVAL-HAB cover) All
Prairie
Forageland
Successional field
Abandoned forageland
Grass-forb All

Species-habitat interrelations: Almost always found on the ground *07*. An elusive species, hides in grasses, difficult to locate *06,07,08*. Found in interior grasslands of North America *05*. Preferred habitat shortgrass fields, plains, prairies. During migration and winter also in pastures, weedy fields, fallow fields *01,02,05,06,07,08*. In Illinois, has been seen in alfalfa and on golfcourse *01*.

 


GUILDS

Feed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonFeed-guilds
Cropland and pasture
Agricultural field
Abandoned cropland
Not applicable (HVAL-HAB cover) All Terrestrial surface - flowers and fruits of grass/grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface - flowers and fruits of forbs
Terrestrial surface - arthropods
Prairie
Forageland
Successional field
Abandoned forageland
Grass-forb All Terrestrial surface - flowers and fruits of grass/grasslike vegetation
Terrestrial surface - flowers and fruits of forbs
Terrestrial surface - arthropods

Comments on feed-guilding:
Feeds on ground in grass for insects and seeds *05,06,07,08*. Walks rather than naps *07*.

Breed-guilding:

HabitatStructural stageSeasonBreed-Guilds
Cropland and pasture Not applicable (HVAL-HAB cover) Spring/summer Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation
Prairie Grass-forb Spring/summer Terrestrial surface, grass and grasslike vegetation

Comments on breed-guilding:
Does not breed in Illinois *01*. Breeds in open shortgrass plains, prairies, fields of Canada and northern United States *05,06,07*. Nest is built on ground in hollow or tuft, of dried dead grasses. May have frail roof *05,06,07,08*.

 


FOOD-HABITS

Trophic level is OMNIVORE

Food itemLife stage/plant part
Angiospermae (flowering plants) Fruit/seeds
Euphorbiaceae (castor, poinsettia) Fruit/seeds
Boraginaceae (bluebells, heliotrope) Fruit/seeds
Asteraceae (asters) Fruit/seeds
Poaceae (grass) Fruit/seeds
Poaceae (grass): witch grass Fruit/seeds
Insecta Adult
Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches) Adult
Hemiptera Adult
Coleoptera (beetles) Adult
Lepidoptera (butterflies, moths) Larva, adult
Hymenoptera (ants, wasps, bees) Adult
Important:
Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches) Adult
Juvenile:
Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches) Adult
Lepidoptera (butterflies, moths) Larva, adult
Adult:
Angiospermae (flowering plants) Fruit/seeds
Euphorbiaceae (castor, poinsettia) Fruit/seeds
Boraginaceae (bluebells, heliotrope) Fruit/seeds
Asteraceae (asters) Fruit/seeds
Poaceae (grass) Fruit/seeds
Poaceae (grass): witch grass Fruit/seeds
Insecta Adult
Orthoptera (grasshoppers, crickets, cockroaches) Adult
Hemiptera Adult
Coleoptera (beetles) Adult
Lepidoptera (butterflies, moths) Larva, adult
Hymenoptera (ants, wasps, bees) Adult

Comments on food habits: 
General: Eat insects and seeds *05,06,09*. Insects mentioned in literature include: grasshoppers, crickets, moths, caterpillars, beetles, weevils, stink bugs and other bugs *06,07,08,09*. Grasshoppers appear to be an important item in diet during breeding season *06,07, 08,09*. During migration and winter forage in weedy fields for weed seeds *05,07*.
Juvenile: During observations on a nest in Manitoba (Harris, 1933) of insects that could be identified as they were fed to nestlings, approx. 84% were grasshoppers, 10% were crickets, and 6% were moths *08*.
Adult: See [FH].


ENVIRONMENTAL ASSOCIATIONS

General:

  • Grassland: see comments
  • Old fields: see comments
  • Herbs-leguminous forbs: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Agricultural crops: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: abandoned fields
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: climax grassland

Resting juvenile:

  • Grassland: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: climax grassland

Feeding adult:

  • Grassland: see comments
  • Old fields: see comments
  • Herbs-leguminous forbs: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Agricultural crops: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: abandoned fields
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: climax grassland

Breeding adult:

  • Grassland: see comments
  • Grasses: see comments
  • Vegetation successional stage: stable prairie/grassland
  • Vegetation successional stage: climax grassland

Comments on environmental associations:
General: Found in shortgrass fields, plains, prairies; weedy fields, pastures, crop fields esp. during winter and migration *01,02,05,06,07*. One was observed in an alfalfa field in Illinois *01*.
Resting juvenile: Young raised in grasslands in nests made of grasses and concealed in grasses *06,07,08*.
Feeding adult: Feed in shortgrass fields, plains, prairies. During winter and migration often feed in weedy fields and pastures *01,02,05,06,07*. Seeds of weeds form part of diet *06,07,09*.
Breeding adult: Breed in interior grasslands of northern United States and in Canada *02,05*. Nest is made of grasses and usually placed in and concealed by grasses *06,07,08*. Loss of prairies has reduced breeding range *07*.


LIFE HISTORY

Origin: Native *01*.

Physical description: 6 1/4-7 in. long; sexes outwardly alike; pale, sparrowlike; buffy underparts conspicuously streaked; back streaked with buff and black (not solidly dark or gray on back as in similar water pipit); has white outer tail feathers; slender; sharp-pointed warbler-like bill *05,10*.

Reproduction: Sprague's pipit does not breed in Illinois *01*. Breeding grounds are on the interior plains and prairies of northern United States and Canada *02,05,06,07*. Sprague's pipits migrate northward in April *05*. Male engaged in courtship flight and song: upward spiraling flight 300-500 ft., then circling down with tail spread, uttering tinkling song. Song has been described as sounding like sleigh bells or a chain falling to ground *06,07*. For an elaborate description of courtship flight and song, see Roberts (1932) *07*. Harris (1933) observed ill-defined territories of only a few square feet *08*. Nest is placed on ground of open prairie, concealed in hollow or grass tuft, made of woven dried grasses; may have a frail roof *05,06,07,08*. Eggs are laid May-June; 3-6 in number, usually 4 or 5; gray-white thickly blotched with purple-brown *05,06*. Female only, incubates; incubation length unknown *05,08*. Most care of young is by female. At a nest in Manitoba, Harris (1933) observed young being fed insects; those he identified were grasshoppers, crickets, and moths *08*. Fecal sacs of young are removed and carried away. Young leave nest approx. 10-11 days after hatching. Male may care for young after they leave the nest *08*. For a detailed description of the development of nestlings see Harris (1933) *08*. Young have a partial postjuvenal molt and adults have a complete post nuptial molt in August or September *06*. After the young are out of the nest, adults become very silent *08*.

Behavior: In autumn sprague's pipits gather into flocks and begin to drift southward. Flocks may be very large, are often mingled with horned larks and longspurs *06*. This pipit is an elusive bird, usually remaining hidden in grasses; when flushed it takes off in long, bounding flight and quickly drops back into cover *06*. Bohlen (1978) describes the status of this bird in Illinois as "rare migrant, rare winter resident in south." However, he thinks the bird may occur more than records indicate; the extensive nature of the bird's preferred habitat and the fact that birds are often found alone may cause it to go undetected *01*. During migration and winter these birds forage in pastures and weedy fields. Migration primarily occurs through the eastern great plains *02*. Sprague's pipits eat both insects and seeds. They are almost always seen on the ground, where they walk about, rather than hop *06,07,09*.

Limiting factors: The loss of prairie habitat to agriculture and development has reduced the breeding range of this species *07*. There is one record of it being a host to cowbird *05*.

Population parameters: The breeding range of sprague's pipit is in the open plains, grasslands and prairies of west-central Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba, extending south to west Montana, North Dakota and northwest Minnesota. Winter range extends from Texas, southern Louisiana and southern Mississippi through eastern and central Mexico, to the extreme southern portion of Mexico; casual in Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina *02,06,07*.

 


MANAGEMENT PRACTICES

Beneficial:

  • Performing special survey prior to prescription
  • Performing field survey prior to prescription
  • Develop/maintain prairie
  • Maintaining undisturbed resting areas for migrating birds

Adverse:

  • Controlling weeds and exotic plants

 


REFERENCES

0. VANDERAH, G.C. 1986. ILL. NAT. HIST. SURV., 607 E. PEABODY DR., CHAMPAIGN, IL. 61820. (217)333-6846.

1. BOHLEN, H. 1978. AN ANNOTATED CHECK-LIST OF THE BIRDS OF ILLINOIS. ILLINOIS STATE MUS. POP. SCI. SER., VOL. IX. 156 P.

2. AMERICAN ORNITHOLGOISTS' UNION. 1984. CHECK-LIST OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. 6TH EDITION. ALLEN PRESS, INC. LAWRENCE KS. 877 P.

3. ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION. 1980. CONSERVATION LAWS. CH. 61. WILDLIFE. ART. II. PAR. 2.2. REPRINTED FROM ILLINOIS REVISED STATUTES, 1979. WEST PUBL. CO., ST. PAUL, MN. 123 PP.

4. U.S. FISH WILDLIFE SERVICE. 1983. CODE OF FEDERAL REGULATIONS. TITLE 50. WILDLIFE AND FISHERIES. CHAPTER 1. PP. 11-18. 50 CFR 10.13. LIST OF MIGRATORY BIRDS. SPECIAL PUBL. FEDERAL REGISTER. GENERAL SERVICES ADMIN. OCTOBER 1.

5. TERRES, J. 1980. AUDUBON SOCIETY: ENCYCLOPEDIA OF NORTH AMERICAN BIRDS. ALFRED KNOPF, NEW YORK. 1109 P.

6. BENT, C.A. 1950. LIFE HISTORIES OF NORTH AMERICAN WAGTAILS, SHRIKES, VIREOS, AND THEIR ALLIES. U.S. NATL. MUS. BULL. NO. 197. WASHINGTON D.C. PP. 52-62.

7. ROBERTS, T.S. 1932. THE BIRDS OF MINNESOTA. UNIV. OF MN PRESS, MINNEAPOLIS, MN. PP. 149-152.

8. HARRIS, R.D. 1933. OBSERVATIONS ON A NEST OF SPRAGUE'S PIPIT (ANTHUS SPRAGUEII). CAN. FIELD. NAT., 47:91-95.

9. MARTIN, A.C., H.S. ZIM, A.L. NELSON. 1951. AMERICAN WILDLIFE AND PLANTS. MCGRAW-HILL BOOK CO. INC., NEW YORK.

10. PETERSON, R.T. 1980. A FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS. 4TH ED. HOUGHTON- MIFFLIN CO. BOSTON, MASS.

 


 

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