Unobtrusive and easily overlooked, the horned lark is actually one of the most common larks worldwide and the only true lark native to North America, where it is one of the most common songbirds on the continent.
Horned Lark, Shore Lark
- Bill: Black, short
- Size: 7-8 inches long with 13-inch wingspan, long tail
- Colors: Buff, black, white, yellow, light brown, rust
- Markings: Dimorphic species. Males upperparts range from buff to light brown to rust. The face is heavily marked with a black crown and small black horn tufts (often hard to see), black lores that connect to a heavy "sideburn" malar stripe, a white forehead, white cheeks and a white or yellow chin and throat. A black necklace or bib is easily visible contrasting with the white underparts. Flanks may have a buff wash. The black tail has white outer tail feathers most easily visible in flight. Females have similar markings but are noticeably duller. On both genders, legs and feet are black.
Habitat and Migration:
Horned larks prefer open ground including short grassland, tundra, beaches and agricultural fields. They are also often seen in the gravel along roadways, and can be found in mountain ranges above the tree line, particularly in Asia. In North America, they are found year-round in the continental United States, southern Canada and central Mexico. In summer, their range extends to the Arctic Circle and Alaska, but they are missing from heavily forested boreal regions and the coastal Pacific Northwest. In winter, their southern range extends slightly further southeast, but they are never regularly found in Florida or southeastern swamps. These birds occupy similar habitats and latitudes throughout Asia, but are scarce in Europe.
The horned lark is an accomplished singer with a long song that has a varied tempo of high, sharp warbling. The rapid song pace often has even faster-paced sections with an almost frantic tone. The typical call is a piercing, elongated "chip" note. Calls can be made at any time, and horned larks will sing either from the ground or while in flight, particularly during courtship.
These birds can be found in pairs or small groups throughout the year, but in winter they are gregarious and will form large flocks, often mixed with snow buntings and longspurs. They forage on the ground, running or walking, not hopping, to find seeds and insects. Their courtship displays are elaborate, and if a nesting female feels threatened, she will use a fluttering display to distract potential predators away from the vulnerable eggs or hatchlings.
Horned larks have bold courtship displays when the male will fly up to 800 feet high and dive nearly to the ground, pulling up abruptly. He will then strut around the female with his horns fully raised. After mates have bonded, these are monogamous birds and the female will incubate a brood of 2-5 eggs for 11-12 days. After hatching, both parents will feed the altricial young for an additional 10-12 days. While northern populations may have only a single brood annually, 2-3 broods is more common for birds in southern ranges.
Attracting Horned Larks:
These are not typical backyard birds because their preferred barren ground habitat is not usual in backyards, and they are rarely seen in urban or suburban areas. In rural areas, however, short grass, gravel driveways and turned gardens can attract horned larks, as can ground feeding or low seed feeders.
- Temminck's Lark (Eremophila bilopha)
- American Pipit (Anthus rubescens)
- Sky Lark (Alada arvensis)