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Sprague's Pipit
Anthus spragueii
Order
PASSERIFORMES
– Family
MOTACILLIDAE
Authors: Robbins, Mark B., and Brenda C. Dale

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Introduction

Adult Sprague's Pipit, breeding plumage, June
Figure 1. Distribution of Sprague's Pipit.

One of the least-known birds in North America because of its highly cryptic plumage and habits, Sprague’s Pipit is one of a handful of birds endemic to the North American grasslands. Most information on this species comes from more general studies of northern prairie avian communities. Until very recently, even the persistent flight displays of territorial males had never been described in detail. These displays often last for over thirty minutes, with an occasional male displaying for up to three hours before returning to the ground. No other avian species is known to make such prolonged flight displays.

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 collected the first specimen near Fort Union, North Dakota, in June 1843. Since its discovery, it has suffered dramatic declines in numbers throughout its range as prairie has disappeared via cultivation, overgrazing, and invasion by exotic plants. Important studies of breeding populations include those by Maher (1973, 1974), Dale (1983), Davis (1994), and Sutter (1996, 1997).