HORNED LARK Eremophila alpestrisEremophila alpestris

Horned Lark is a taxonomic nightmare with about 40 subspecies across the Old and New Worlds and 21 in the United States and Canada. This species is known in Europe as Shore Lark and its range in the Old World extends from the shores of the Arctic Ocean to North Africa. Horned Lark is the only species native to North America  from this family of as many as 91 species, widely distributed across the Old World. In addition to its range in North and Central America, this species also inhabits an area in the Andes of Colombia (Monroe and Sibley  1993, Beason 1995, Pyle 1997).

DISTRIBUTION.During the 1987-1992 TBBA field work volunteers found confirmed breeding evidence in Texas for Horned Lark in the High Plains region with significant breeding also found in the Trans-Pecos, Rolling Plains, northern Post Oak Savannah and Blackland Prairies regions (see map in Lockwood and Freeman [2004]) and in the lower Rio Grande valley and along the Gulf Coast . The map is similar to that produced from the North American Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data. Relative abundance data from 40 km (25 mi) routes  show 10-30 larks per route in the Panhandle and south to the 32nd parallel. East and south of this area abundance drops fairly rapidly to <1 detection per route in the Trans-Pecos, Post Oak Savannah and Blackland Prairies souther Coastal Prairies, and Coastal Sand Plain regions. In the lower Rio Grande valley relative abundance reached 1-3 detections per route (Sauer et al. 2005).

In other states and provinces,  Horned Lark breeds on arctic tundra from Alaska to the Atlantic Ocean. South of the taiga, this lark mainly breeds in open areas of the Canadian prairie provinces, the intermountain west and western Great Plains and Great Lakes states of the United States. From the desert southwest, the breeding range continues south through the highlands of mainland Mexico to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and on the Baja California peninsula. In winter Alaskan and Canadian populations move south to more temperate parts of the breeding range (Beason 1995, Howell and Webb 1995, Sauer et al. 2005).

SEASONAL OCCURRENCE. Horned Larks are present in Texas throughout the year. The breeding season of Horned Larks in Texas is from mid-February to mid-July, based on egg dates from February  20 to June 26. Winter visitors arrive from the north as early as August 22 and leave by April 28. Most winter visitors are present from  early November to late March (Oberholser 1974,  Lockwood and Freeman 2004).

BREEDING HABITAT. In Texas Horned Lark breeds from near sea level along thecoast  to about 1700 m (5500 ft; Oberholser 1974). In Colorado where breeding habitats have been quantified this lark breeds widely on  the eastern plains; about 90% of  breeding occurs in various grassland areas (much as short-grass prairie, cropland and mid-grass prairies. In these habitats, nests are placed on bare ground (Ryder 1998). The nest, built by the female in 2-4 days, is placed in a hollow in the ground, often partly concealed by a clump of grass or dry cow droppings. It is constructed of coarse plant stems and leaves and lined with  fine grass. One side of the nest rim is often covered with small pebbles or lumps of dry soil. The outside diameter of the nest, is 3.3×4 cm (8×10 in), height 5 cm (2 in), inside diameter 5×6.5 cm (2×2.5 in) and cup depth is 4 cm (1.5 in).

The female usually lays 2-4 (varies geographically, range 2-5) smooth, grayish white eggs (see Harrison [1979] for photo of markings). The female incubates the eggs for about 11 days and young birds leave the nest about 8-10 days after hatching. A pair may raise 2 or 3 broods per season. Brood parasitism by Brown-headed Cowbirds (Molothrus ater) is rare for early broods, but much heavier later on (Harrison 1979, Beason 1995).

STATUS. Lockwood and Freeman (2004) consider Horned Lark as a common to uncommon resident  in much of western and coastal sections of Texas, with breeding distribution more widely scattered and local elsewhere.

BBS data from 70 routes in Texas produce a statistically significant trend of -3.2% population change  per year for the period 1966-2004. Data from 2025 BBS routes across the United States and Canada produce a statistically significant trend of -2.2% population change per year for the same period (Sauer et al. 2005). These trends are disturbing, but because of the wide distribution of Horned Lark in the state, especially in winter, and its high relative abundance on BBS routes in major areas of Texas, its future in the state seems reasonably secure, barring major climate changes.

Text by Robert C. Tweit (2006)

Texas Breeding Bird Atlas map

Literature cited.

Beason, R. C. 1995. Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris). In The birds of North America, No. 195 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Harrison, H. H. 1979. A field guide to western birds’ nests. Houghton Mifflin, Boston, MA.

Howell, S. N. G. and S. Webb. 1995. A guide to the birds of Mexico and northern Central America. Oxford University Press, New York.

Lockwood, M. W. and B. Freeman. 2004. The TOS handbook of Texas birds. Texas A&M University Press, College Station.

Monroe, B. L., Jr. and C. G. Sibley. 1993. A world checklist of birds. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.

Oberholser, H. C. 1974. The bird life of Texas. University of Texas Press, Austin.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification guide to North American birds, part 1. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, CA.

Ryder, R. A. 1998. Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris). In Colorado breeding bird atlas, pp. 332-333 (H. E. Kingery, ed.). Colorado Bird Atlas Partnership, Denver. .

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, and J. Fallon. 2005. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2004. Version 2005.1. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel MD (Web site, http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs).

Comments are closed.