Horned LarkEremophila alpestris

adult male, Interior West
Greg Lasley/VIREO
adult female,Interior West
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult male, Northern
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult male, Interior West
Rob Curtis/VIREO
adult male, Eastern
Arthur Morris/VIREO
adult, Pacific
Alan David Walther/VIREO
Horned Lark

Family

Description

7-8" (18-20 cm). Larger than a sparrow. Brown, with black stripe below eye and white or yellowish stripe above, black crescent on breast, and black "horns" (not always seen). Walks rather than hops. In flight, tail is black with white edges. Similar-looking pipits have brown tails and lack face pattern.

Voice

A soft ti-ti. Song delivered in flight is a high-pitched series of tinkling notes.

Listen

calls
long song
short song
call

Habitat

Plains, fields, airports, and beaches.

Range

Breeds in Alaska and Canadian Arctic, coastal Canada, and south throughout all of United States except Southeast. Winters from southern Canada southward. Also in Old World.

Discussion

The Horned Lark, which walks or runs instead of hopping, moves in an erratic pattern when feeding. On its breeding territory and when in flocks during winter, it feeds on seeds and ground insects. The only true lark native to the New World, this is one of our earliest nesting birds. Even in the northern states, nests may be found in February, when the first set of eggs is often destroyed by severe snowstorms. As many as three broods are raised each year. This bird is philopatric, or faithful to its birthplace, where it returns after every migration. Consequently, each local population adapts to the color of its habitat; 15 distinct subspecies have been described in the West.

Nesting

3-5 brown-spotted gray eggs in a hollow in the ground lined with fine grass.

Similar Species

adult (light)

American Pipit

6-7" (15-18 cm). A sparrow-sized, slender brown bird of open country. Crown and upperparts uniform brown; underparts buff with streaks; outer tail feathers white; legs usually black.

adult, breeding

White Wagtail

7" (18 cm). A slim, small-bodied bird with a long slender tail that wags constantly and is half its total length.

adult male,breeding

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

6 1/2" (17 cm). Small and dainty; tail makes up half its total length. Adult olive-gray above, bright yellow below. White eye stripe, wing bars, and outer tail feathers, which flash in flight.

adult

Cassin's Sparrow

5 1/4-5 3/4" (13-15 cm). Fine brown streaking on grayish-brown head and back; dingy buff unstreaked underparts, with faint streaking on lower flanks occasionally visible. Sexes look alike.

adult male, breeding

Lapland Longspur

6-7" (15-18 cm). Sparrow-sized. The only longspur in most of the East.

adult male, breeding

McCown's Longspur

5 3/4-6" (15 cm). Sparrow-sized. Breeding male streaked above, with black crown, whitish face, and black "mustache"; gray below with bold black band across breast.

adult male, breeding

Chestnut-collared Longspur

5 1/2-6 1/2" (14-17 cm). Sparrow-sized. Similar to Lapland Longspur, but breeding male has wholly black underparts and some white on its face.

adult male, breeding

Smith's Longspur

5 3/4-6 1/2" (15-17 cm). Sparrow-sized. Breeding male streaked dark brown and buff above, clear warm buff below; bold black and white head pattern.

adult

Vesper Sparrow

5-6 1/2" (13-17 cm). A grayish, streaked sparrow with white outer tail feathers, narrow white eye ring, and a small patch of chestnut on bend of wing.

adult

Sky Lark

7-7 1/2" (18-19 cm). Light earth-brown above, with heavy, dark streaking; buff below, with lighter streaking. Outer tail feathers and belly white.

Vireo

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