Unlike most other larks, this is a distinctive-looking species on the ground, mainly brown-grey above and pale below, with a striking black and yellow face pattern. Except for the central feathers, the tail is mostly black, contrasting with the paler body; this contrast is especially noticeable when the bird is in flight. The summer male has black "horns", which give this species its American name. America has a number of races distinguished by the face pattern and back color of males, especially in summer. The southern European mountain race Eremophila alpestris penicillata is greyer above, and the yellow of the face pattern is replaced with white.
Vocalizations are high-pitched, lisping or tinkling, and weak. The song, given in flight as is common among larks, consists of a few chips followed by a warbling, ascending trill.
Distribution and habitat
The Horned Lark breeds across much of North America from the high Arctic south to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, northernmost Europe and Asia and in the mountains of southeast Europe. There is also an isolated population on a plateau in Colombia. It is mainly resident in the south of its range, but northern populations of this passerine bird are migratory, moving further south in winter.
This is a bird of open ground. In Eurasia it breeds above the tree line in mountains and the far north. In most of Europe, it is most often seen on seashore flats in winter, leading to the European name. In the UK it can be found as a winter stopover along the coasts and in eastern England although a mated pair have been recently spotted in Windmill End nature reserve in the West Midlands. In America, where there are no other larks to compete with, it's also found on farmland, on prairies, in deserts, on golf courses and airports, and the like.
The nest is on the ground, with 2-5 eggs being laid. Food is seeds supplemented with insects in the breeding season. The nest may be near corn or soybeans for a source of food, and the female chooses the site.
Status and conservation
In the open areas of western North America, Horned Larks are among the bird species most often killed by wind turbines.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Eremophila alpestris". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2012.1. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
- Erickson, W.P., G. D. Johnson, D. P. Young, Jr., M. D. Strickland, R.E. Good, M.Bourassa, K. Bay. 2002. Synthesis and Comparison of Baseline Avian and Bat Use, Raptor Nesting and Mortality Information from Proposed and Existing Wind Developments. Technical Report prepared for Bonneville Power Administration, Portland, Oregon. http://www.bpa.gov/Power/pgc/wind/Avian_and_Bat_Study_12-2002.pdf
- Steve N. G. Howell and Sophie Webb (1994). A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-854012-4.
- Perrins, Christopher (ed.) (2003). Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds. Firefly Books. ISBN 1-55297-777-3.
- Sibley, David (2000). The Sibley Guide to Birds. Knopf Publishing Group. ISBN 0-679-45122-6.
- van den Berg, Arnoud (2005) Morphology of Atlas Horned Lark Dutch Birding 27(4):256-8
- Small, Brian (2002) The Horned Lark on the Isles of Scilly Birding World 15(3): 111-20 (discusses a possible Nearctic race bird on the Isles of Scilly in 2001)
- Dickinson, E.C., R.W.R.J. Dekker, S. Eck & S. Somadikarta (2001). "Systematic notes on Asian birds. 12. Types of the Alaudidae". Zool. Verh. Leiden 335: 85–126.
- Seebohm, H (1884). "On the East-Asiatic Shore-Lark (Otocorys longirostris)". Ibis 26 (2): 184–188.
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