This section is from the magazine "Birds Illustrated by Color Photograph". Also available from Amazon: The Wisdom of Birds: An Illustrated History of Ornithology.
SMITH'S Painted Longspur is usually considered a rare bird in the middle west, but a recent observer found it very common in the fields. He saw twenty-five on October 3rd of last year. They were associated with a large flock of Lapland Longspurs. On account of its general resemblance to the latter species it is often overlooked. It is found in the interior of North America from the Arctic coast to Illinois and Texas, breeding far north, where it has a thick, fur-lined, grass nest, set in moss on the ground. Like the Lapland Longspur, it is only a winter visitor. It is not so generally distributed as that species, the migrations being wholly confined to the open prairie districts. Painted Longspurs are generally found in large flocks, and when once on the ground begin to sport. They run very nimbly, and when they arise utter a sharp click, repeated several times in quick succession, and move with an easy undulating motion for a short distance, when they alight very suddenly, seeming to fall perpendicularly several feet to the ground. They prefer the roots where the grass is shortest. When in the air they fly in circles, to and fro, for a few minutes, and then alight, keeping up a constant chirping or call. They seem to prefer the wet portions of the prairie.
In the breeding seasons the Longspur's song has much of charm, and is uttered like the Skylark's while soaring. The Longspur is a ground feeder, and the mark of his long hind claw, or spur, can often be seen in the new snow. In 1888 the writer saw a considerable flock of Painted Longspurs feeding along the Niagara river near Fort Erie, Canada.
The usual number of eggs found in a nest is four or five, and the nests, for the most part, are built of fine dry grasses, carefully arranged and lined with down, feathers, or finer materials similar to those of the outer portions. They are sometimes sunk in an excavation made by the birds, or in a tuft of grass, and in one instance, placed in the midst of a bed of Labrador tea. When the nest is approached, the female quietly slips off, while the male bird may be seen hopping or flying from tree to tree in the neighborhood of the nest and doing all he can to induce intruders to withdraw from the neighborhood. The eggs have a light clay-colored ground, marked with obscure blotches of lavender and darker lines, dots, and blotches of purplish brown. The Longspur is a strong flier, and seems to delight in breasting the strongest gales, when all the other birds appear to move with difficulty, and to keep themselves concealed among the grass. While the colors of adult males are very different in the Longspur family, the females have a decided resemblance.
The markings of the male are faintly indicated, but the black and buff are wanting.