HORNED LARK – (Eremophila alpestris)
DESCRIPTION: The Horned Lark has grey-brown upper parts, a black collar and white under parts. The face and throat are either yellow or white, There is a black down-curving black mask, and a black crown ending up with the ‘horns’. The dark grey bill is short and sharp, and the legs and feet are dark grey. The posterior talon is larger than the anterior ones. Females are a washed out version of the males. Juveniles have no black around the head or on the breast, which is light brown. Their back is mottled with white spots. This bird measures around 18 cm (7 inches) long.
VOICE: https://www.xeno-canto.org/species/Eremophila-alpestris – The song of the horned lark is often heard early in the day and also in flight. It is faint and musical, consisting of several high-pitch notes in ascending fashion.
NAME: The English name ‘Horned’ refers to the head plumage. The name ‘Lark’ comes from Middle English ‘laverock’ to mean ‘lark’. The Latin genus name ‘Eremophila’ comes from ancient Greek and means ‘to like desert places’. The Latin species name ‘alpestris’ refers to the Alps, or mountains in general.
HABITAT: Almost bare ground, with short and sparse vegetation. Found in flocks in the prairies, but also in deserts, on dunes and beaches, plowed fields and cleared ground around airports.
DIET: Seeds and insects.
NESTING: The nest is built in a depression on the ground. It is a basket-like structure of finely woven material. Between two and four light grey eggs are laid, incubated by the female. Chicks are fed by both parents.
DISTRIBUTION: Breeding range covers most of Canada except the boreal forest, and arctic regions around the globe. Year-round resident of the southern part of Canada, most of the USA, and parts of Eurasia with bare ground.
ON PEI: Year-round resident on Prince Edward Island. Occurrence varies depending on the years and the seasons.
CONSERVATION: Numbers have declined steadily over the last few decades. One possible explanation is more intensive agriculture with pesticide use. There is also loss of habitat to urban development. In the western part of its range it is among the birds most often killed by wind turbines.
NOTES: Runs or walks on the ground rather than hopping. When foraging this bird can be found mixed with Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs.
Subspecies: There are up to 42 subspecies of the horned lark. The ones most likely to be observed in Eastern Canada are Eremophila alpestris alpestris and Eremophila alpestris praticola.
The popular music piece ‘The Lark Ascending’ by Ralph Vaughan Williams is a hymn to the Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis) and its song. Although in the same family (Alaudidae) as the Eurasian skylark, the Horned lark now belongs to a different genus, although previously it belonged to the same one.
SIMILAR SPECIES: Lapland Longspur, American Pipit
American Bird Conservancy (Horned Lark)
https://www.nps.gov/chis/learn/nature/horned-lark.htm (National Park Service, California)
https://nature.mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/horned-lark (Missouri Department of Conservation)