Lapland Longspur, Chestnut-collared Longspur, McCown’s Longspur, and Smith’s Longspur can often be found with flocks of Horned Lark, but they are all smaller and chunkier, with thicker, more sparrowlike bills. Chestnut-collared Longspur and McCown’s Longspur both show much more white in the tail than does Horned Lark. Sprague’s Pipit and American Pipit are streakier than adult Horned Lark. They have much shorter wings, with the wingtips reaching just the base of the tail, where Horned Lark’s wingtips extend halfway down the tail. Neither pipit has the strong face markings of adult Horned Lark; however, juvenile Horned Lark also lack face markings. Pipits are plain (American Pipit) or streaked (Sprague’s Pipit) on the back, whereas juvenile Horned Lark are spotted on the back.
Horned Larks vary in color across North America. Some arctic-breeding birds have little or no yellow on the head, while Eastern and south Texas breeders have the head extensively yellow. Those breeding along the Pacific coast tend to be a brighter rufous on the nape, upper back, shoulders, and sides; elsewhere they are a sandier brown.
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.