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Horned Lark
Eremophila alpestris
– Family
Authors: Beason, Robert C.

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Adult male Horned Lark; Colorado, July
Figure 1. Distribution of the Horned Lark in North America.

The Horned Lark is the only member of the family Alaudidae that is native to North America. Linnaeus named this species Alauda alpestris, which means “lark of the mountains.” Its distribution is holarctic, from the Arctic south to central Asia and Mexico with outlying populations in Morocco and Colombia. A common, widespread bird of the open country, the Horned Lark prefers short, sparsely vegetated prairies, deserts, and agricultural lands. Although its numbers increased dramatically in eastern North America during the last half of the nineteenth century, they have remained relatively stable over the past twenty-five years.

Horned Larks often sing in flight, and in such instances the song appears to function in courtship. Adults eat primarily weed and grass seeds, but they feed insects to their young. The species has been reported to be mostly monogamous, but no studies have been conducted to examine the possibility of extra-pair copulations or the duration of the pair bond.

In North America, geographic variation is most obvious in body size and coloration, especially of the eyebrow stripe, throat, and ear coverts, which vary from white to yellow. The variation in back color is strongly correlated with the color of the local soil. Eurasian races may have the broad black cheek joined with the extensive chest patch, isolating a small, light throat patch (Cramp 1985). Males and females are similar, but females tend to be slightly smaller and their plumages duller.

In Europe and Asia, where this species occurs from the Arctic south to north Africa, it is known as the Shore Lark (or Shorelark).