Sky LarkAlauda arvensis

adult
Hanne & Jens Eriksen/VIREO
adult, alarmed
Stuart Elsom/VIREO

Family

Description

This is one of the most famous songbirds in the world, celebrated by British poets and naturalists. English settlers in North America tried repeatedly to introduce the Skylark to this continent, but they succeeded only on southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Present since the early 1900s, there are still a few Skylarks around the edges of Victoria, but they are gradually disappearing as development takes over their habitat.

Habitat

Open country, fields. Introduced population on Vancouver Island lives in open areas with fairly tall grass. On native range in Eurasia, found in any kind of open country, farmland, extensive lawns, edges of marshes.

Feeding Diet

Seeds, insects. Diet in North America not known in detail. In Europe, feeds mostly on seeds of grasses and weeds, grain in agricultural fields, and leaves of various ground plants. Also eats many insects (including beetles, caterpillars, and others) and some spiders, millipedes, and snails, mostly in summer. Young birds are fed mostly insects at first.

Feeding Behavior

Forages by walking on ground in open areas, picking up items from ground, and pecking at plant stalks and seed heads.

Nesting

Male may sing at any season, but most intensively in early spring to defend nesting territory and attract a mate. In typical song-flight display, male takes off from ground and flies up in steep spiral to as high as 150-300' above the ground, singing most of the way up; then hovers and circles for several minutes, singing continuously, before gradually spiraling down to ground while continuing to sing. Nest site is on ground, in an open area among short grass. Nest (probably built by female only) is a slight depression in the ground lined with grass and rootlets, with an inner lining of finer grass and sometimes animal hair. Eggs: Usually 3-5. Pale gray, sometimes with greenish tinge, heavily spotted with olive or brown. Incubation is by female only, about 11 days. Young: Fed by both parents. Young often leave nest after 8-10 days, but not able to fly well until 10 days later.

Eggs

Usually 3-5. Pale gray, sometimes with greenish tinge, heavily spotted with olive or brown. Incubation is by female only, about 11 days. Young: Fed by both parents. Young often leave nest after 8-10 days, but not able to fly well until 10 days later.

Young

Fed by both parents. Young often leave nest after 8-10 days, but not able to fly well until 10 days later.

Conservation

Introduced population in North America is gradually declining. On native range in Eurasia (and where introduced in New Zealand and Australia), some recent declines but still widespread and abundant. Also introduced in Hawaii.

Range

Introduced birds are permanent residents. Migratory birds from northeastern Asia have reached Alaska, and one has wintered in California.

Similar Species

adult (light)

American Pipit

Nesting in the far north and on mountaintops, American Pipits can be found throughout the continent during migration or winter. At those seasons they are usually in flocks, walking on shores or plowed fields, wagging their tails as they go. Often they are detected first as they fly over high, giving sharp pi-pit calls.

adult

Sprague's Pipit

Audubon called this bird the "Missouri skylark," because he found it singing in the sky over the prairies along the upper Missouri River. Sprague's Pipit delivers its breathy flight-song while hovering high in the air, often for minutes at a time, over the northern Great Plains in summer. In winter, it becomes an elusive skulker in the short grass of dry prairies. Unlike the American Pipit, Sprague's never occurs in flocks. Even where it is common in winter, the birds flush singly from the grass, to circle high in the air before diving steeply to land again.

adult

Cassin's Sparrow

In dry grassland country of the Southwest in summer, this plain brown sparrow is often seen flying up from a bush top and then fluttering down in a "skylarking" display, giving a song of sweet trills and notes. Cassin's Sparrows are sometimes very common, but they are irregular, big numbers often appearing in an area after good rains have turned the prairies green. With their nomadic tendencies, they sometimes turn up far outside their normal range, with scattered records from coast to coast.

adult male, breeding

Lapland Longspur

Found throughout the Arctic zones of Europe, Asia, and North America in summer, this is one of the most abundant breeding birds of the far North. Birders who visit the tundra in summer will find Lapland Longspurs very common almost everywhere there, the bright males singing their short warbling songs from hummocks or rocks or while flying. In winter the birds come south in flocks, to forage in windswept fields.

adult male, breeding

McCown's Longspur

An uncommon bird of the high plains, nesting on shortgrass prairies and wintering in dry fields of the Southwest. McCown's Longspurs are most conspicuous in summer, when the males perform flight-song displays, singing as they parachute down with their white tail feathers spread wide. In winter they are often in forbiddingly barren areas, such as plowed fields or dry lake beds, where there are few other birds except for flocks of hardy Horned Larks. Like other longspurs, however, they are attracted to water, and swirling flocks often descend on the margins of ponds.

adult male, breeding

Chestnut-collared Longspur

Male Chestnut-collared Longspurs can be found in summer singing their flight-songs over the northern prairies. In winter, flocks invade the grasslands of the Southwest. They can be hard to see well on the ground, flushing when a birder approaches, to swirl away over the fields with soft musical callnotes; they are more easily observed when they come to drink at ponds.

adult male, breeding

Smith's Longspur

Rather uncommon and mysterious birds, Smith's Longspurs nest in the Arctic, in a narrow zone where the last stunted trees give way to open tundra. They spend the winter on the southern Great Plains. On the wintering grounds, the birds live in flocks in open fields of short grass, where they are difficult to see well; if a birder gets too close, the longspurs take wing with dry rattling calls, to circle over the prairie before alighting again some distance away.

adult

Vesper Sparrow

A rather chunky sparrow of the open fields, known at all seasons by its streaked appearance and its white outer tail feathers. In summer, its clear musical song may be heard at any time of day; but the naturalist John Burroughs, feeling that it sang most impressively in the evening, gave it the name of Vesper Sparrow. Not as shy as many grassland sparrows, it can be observed rather easily. It is often found dust-bathing in bare soil of fields or dirt roads.

adult male, Interior West

Horned Lark

On open fields in winter, flocks of Horned Larks walk and run on the ground, examining the soil and stubble in search of seeds. If disturbed, the flock makes away in swift, twisting flight, making soft lisping callnotes. This species, the only native lark in North America, begins nesting very early in spring in those same barren fields, and the tinkling songs of the males come from high overhead as they perform their flight-song display. The "horns" of the Horned Lark are little tufts of feathers, visible only at close range.

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