Living Bird Magazine
Horned LarkEremophila alpestris
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Alaudidae
Look carefully at a bare, brown field, especially in winter, and you may be surprised to see it crawling with little brown shapes. When they turn, you may see a neat yellow face, black mask, and tiny black “horns” waving in the breeze. Horned Larks are widespread songbirds of fields, deserts, and tundra, where they forage for seeds and insects, and sing a high, tinkling song. Though they are still common, they have undergone a sharp decline in the last half-century.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Horned Larks are small birds that live in large, empty fields—and they’re roughly the same color and size as a clod of dirt. To find them, look for the barest ground around and scan the ground carefully, watching for movement or for the birds to turn their black-and-yellow faces toward you. Also watch the air above open country for flocks of smaller birds flying in dense aggregations (sometimes numbering well into the hundreds, particularly in winter). From late winter into summer, listen for the high-pitched, thin, tinkling song, often given in flight display over suitable open habitats.
- Alondra Cornuda (Spanish)
- Alouette hausse-col (French)
- Cool Facts
- Horned Larks inhabit an extensive elevation range, from sea level to an altitude of 13,000 feet. Linnaeus named this bird Alauda alpestris: “lark of the mountains” (it has since been moved to the genus Eremophila).
- Female Horned Larks often collect “pavings”—pebbles, clods, corncobs, dung—which they place beside their nests, covering soil excavated from the nest cavity. The “paved” area resembles a sort of walkway, though the birds don’t seem to use it that way. While nobody fully understands the function of these pavings, they may help prevent collected nesting material from blowing away while the nest is under construction.
- When she is ready to mate, a female Horned Lark performs a courting display that looks very much as if she is taking a dust bath. In fact, potential mates seem prone to confusion on this score: a male catching a glimpse of a dust-bathing female may attempt to mate with her.
- The longest-lived Horned Lark on record in North America was a male, and at least 7 years, 11 months old when he was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Colorado in 1983, the same state where he had been banded.