Horned Lark

Eremophila alpestris

Alan Vernon, Creative Commons BY-SA
  • ALAUDIDAE
  • Passeriformes
  • Alondra cornuda
  • Alouette hausse-col, L’Alouette cornue
Introduction

The Horned Lark is a small grayish brown bird with dramatic black, yellow, and white facial and breast pattern, and small, feathered "horns" on its head, found in open, barren habitats in Canada, the United States (including Alaska), and northern Mexico outside of heavily forested areas.

Fun Fact

If a male Horned Lark dies, a neighboring male will sometimes take over his territory and mate with his partner in addition to his own.

Kathy Zimmerman, Creative Commons BY-SA
Bird Sounds
© Lang Elliot, Nature Sound Studio
Vocalization

A weak, tinkling song, given both on the ground and in flight.

Appearance Description

A small grayish brown bird seen out in the open. Black tail visible in flight. Also look for its dramatic black, yellow, and white facial and breast pattern, and small, feathered “horns” on its head.

Range Map
Kenn Kaufman
Range Distribution

Most of Canada, the United States (including Alaska), and northern Mexico outside of heavily forested areas. Horned Larks leave most of Alaska and Canada in the winter, but are found year-round in the rest of the range.

Habitat

Prefers open, barren habitats—the more bare ground the better. Likes fallow agricultural fields.

Feeding

Feeds on seeds during the winter and supplements this diet with insects during the breeding season. Prefers to forage in exposed agricultural fields and short vegetation, but during heavy snow cover feeds in fields and lots where manure and waste grain are spread. Sometimes eats sprouting crops, including lettuce, wheat, and oats, causing agricultural damage.

Reproduction

Usually nests on bare ground, including plowed or fall-planted fields. The female constructs the nest and often covers up the excavated soil with “pavings” of clods, corncobs, cow dung, or pebbles. Horned Larks at higher latitudes usually have only one brood per season, although most others have 2 or more. Clutch size ranges from 2 to 5 eggs.

Migration
  • 77 million
  • 77 million
  • 77 million now, 175 million 40 years ago
  • 56 percent in 40 years
Population Status Trends
Conservation Issues
  • Threats: This species faces two major threats to its breeding habitat. In tundra areas, global warming is melting permafrost, allowing the growth of vegetation in areas that formerly provided the open habitat it relies on. Second, in agricultural areas, Horned Larks breed in fallow fields, but are then are disturbed when the fields are planted and crops grow up before the larks can finish nesting, or worse, their nests are destroyed by agricultural activities.

  • Outlook: The Horned Lark has a very wide range, but because much of its habitat is threatened this species is expected to continue to decline significantly.
What You Can Do
  • Preserve Farmlands
    Promote strong conservation provisions in the federal farm bill, especially the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which pays farmers to keep marginal farmlands idle and supports millions of acres of good bird habitat. Contact your county’s office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) or Farm Service Agency (FSA) to find out how to increase the number of acres devoted to helping birds dependent on farmlands.

  • Help Halt Global Warming
    Back strong federal, state, and local legislation to cap greenhouse emissions, and spur alternative energy sources. Conserve energy at home and at work (http://www.audubon.org/globalWarming/BePartSolution.php).

  • Maintain Ranchlands
    Support wildlife-friendly management of lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and other federal agencies in the western states, including good regulations for grazing, fire, mining, and energy development. Support research and management actions against non-native, invasive plants; these actions help ranchers and wildlife.
More Information
Natural History References
Conservation Status References

Beason, R.C. (1995). Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris). The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences and Washington, DC: The American Ornithologists’ Union. Retrieved from The Birds of North America Online database: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/BNA/account/Horned_Lark/

Kaufman, Kenn. Guía de campo a las aves de Norteamérica. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.