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Sprague's Pipit
Anthus spragueii
– Family
Authors: Robbins, Mark B., and Brenda C. Dale
Revisors: Davis, Stephen K.

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Adult Sprague's Pipit; Saskatchewan; May.
Sprague's Pipit in flight; Caldwell, KS; October.
Figure 1. Distribution of Sprague's Pipit.

Sprague’s Pipit is one of a handful of birds endemic to the North American grasslands. Until recently, most information on this species was from more general studies of northern mixed-grass avian communities. The species is best known for the persistent flight displays of territorial males. Indeed, Sprague himself stated, “While out I watched one of the new titlarks for nearly an hour--as it sailed over my head high in the air--singing its simple notes at intervals of about 10 seconds, the song itself occupying about 5 seconds. While singing they remain nearly still moving their wings in a rapid manner like a little hawk, and in the intervals between they sweep around in an undulating manner closing the wings to the body like the goldfinch” (Allen 1951). Displays often last for over thirty minutes, but durations of at least three hours have been documented. This pipit often goes undetected during migration through the Great Plains, and almost nothing is known about its behavior on the wintering grounds in the southwestern and south-central United States and northern Mexico.

Audubon described and named this species after his friend, Isaac Sprague, who discovered the first nest near Fort Union, North Dakota, in June 1843 (Allen 1951). Since its discovery, it has suffered dramatic declines in numbers throughout its range as prairie ecosystems have been lost and degraded.

Early studies include those by Maher (1973, 1974), Owens and Myres (1973), and Dale (1983) in Saskatchewan and Alberta, with early winter information by Grzybowski (1982) in Oklahoma and Texas. More recently, key studies of breeding biology include those by Davis (2009), Dohms (2009), and Davis and Holmes (2012) in Saskatchewan; studies on juvenile survival and dispersal by Davis and Fisher (2009) and Fisher and Davis (2011a) in Saskatchewan; habitat selection research by Davis (2004, 2005), Davis et al. (2006, 2013), Sutter (1997), Fisher and Davis (2011b) in Saskatchewan, Koper et al. (2009) in Alberta, Dieni and Jones (2003) in Montana, and Madden (2000) in North Dakota; work on reproductive success by Davis and Sealy (2000) in Manitoba, Davis (2003) in Saskatchewan, and Jones et al. (2010) in Montana; research on nest predators by Davis et al. (2012) in Saskatchewan; and research on abundance, distribution and habitat selection on the wintering grounds (Macías-Duarte et al. 2009, Pool et al. 2012).