Lark Sparrow

Chondestes grammacus

Glen Tepke
  • EMBERIZINAE
  • Sparrows, Buntings, Towhees, Longspurs
  • Passeriformes
  • Gorrión arlequín
  • Pinson à joues marron
Introduction

The Lark Sparrow is a brown bird with distinctive markings on the head and tail, found in grassy habitats with scattered trees or shrubs, including sagebrush, park-like settings, and open deciduous savannas in interior southwestern Canada south to northern Mexico and from Illinois west to California.

Fun Fact

Unlike most sparrows which move by hopping, the Lark Sparrow moves point-to-point unless startled and only hops during courtship.

Bird Sounds
© Lang Elliot, Nature Sound Studio
Vocalization

The song is long and complex with pure notes, buzzy notes, and trills.

Appearance Description

A brown bird with distinctive markings on the head and tail. The head features chestnut, black, and white stripes and a chestnut ear-patch; the tail is black with large, white outer corners.

Range Map
Kenn Kaufman
Range Distribution

Breeds from interior southwestern Canada south to northern Mexico and from Illinois west to California; winters primarily in Mexico, Texas, California, southern Arizona, and New Mexico, but stragglers are often found in other parts of the breeding range during warm winters.

Habitat

Prefers grassy habitats with scattered trees or shrubs, including sagebrush, park-like settings, and open deciduous savannas.

Feeding

Forages on the ground for insects during the breeding season, and gleans mostly for seeds during the non-breeding season. During cold snaps, the Lark Sparrow consumes only seeds, as insects become much scarcer.

Reproduction

Exhibits unique passerine courtship behavior, including the passing of a twig between male and female during mating. The nest site is usually on poor/sandy soils, although unusual places such as dead tree cavities and fencepost hollows are also sometimes used. Frequently has second broods, and the clutch size range is 3-6 eggs.

Migration
  • 7.4 million
  • 7.4 million
  • 7.4 million now, 20 million 40 years ago
  • 63 percent in 40 years
Population Status Trends
Conservation Issues
  • Threats: In the eastern part of its range, the Lark Sparrow is threatened by agricultural intensification and suburbanization, much like the Northern Bobwhite. In the western part of the range, major problems include inappropriate fire (too frequent or not frequent enough), non-native, invasive annual plants (e.g. cheatgrass), grasshopper control activities, and mining/drilling activities.

  • Outlook: The Lark Sparrow’s long-term survival is not in significant danger. But the fact that its population has experienced such a steep decline in four decades indicates that humans are having a serious impact on habitats within its range. Lark Sparrows and many other birds do well on well-managed ranches.
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.

  • 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

  • Stop Invasive Species
    Work with county agricultural officials to help fight the spread of non-native annual grasses. Support strong federal, regional, state, and local regulations and research and management to combat non-native, invasive species.
More Information
Natural History References
Conservation Status References

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

Martin, J.W. and J.R. Parrish (2000). Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus). The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Birds of North America, Inc Retrieved from The Birds of North America Online database: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/BNA/account/Lark_Sparrow/