Lark Sparrow Life History

Habitat

Habitat Grasslands

Lark Sparrows breed in open grassy habitats with scattered trees and shrubs including orchards, fallow fields, open woodlands, mesquite grasslands, savanna, sagebrush steppe, and grasslands. During migration and winter they use similar habitats, but can also be found in pine-oak forest, thorn scrub, and agricultural areas with scattered trees and hedgerows.

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Food

Food Seeds

Lark Sparrows eat insects and seeds, consuming more insects in the summer months and more seeds in the winter months. They pick insects and seeds from the ground or from leaves and twigs.

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Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest Ground

Female Lark Sparrows pick a spot either on the ground or in a tree or shrub. Ground nests tend to be placed in a shallow depression on a spot where the land rises slightly. Tree and shrub nests tend to be around 4.5 feet off the ground. Sometimes they reuse old nests from other species, including nests of Scissor-tailed Flycatchers, Curve-billed Thrashers, Northern Mockingbirds, and Western Kingbirds.

Nest Description

Females build a thick-walled cup of grass, twigs, or weedy stems that they line with finer grass or horsehair.

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:3-6 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.7-0.9 in (1.8-2.3 cm)
Egg Width:0.6-0.7 in (1.5-1.7 cm)
Incubation Period:11-12 days
Nestling Period:11-12 days
Egg Description:

Creamy white with dark spots and scrawls.

Condition at Hatching:

Eyes closed; sparse down.

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Behavior

Behavior Ground Forager

Lark Sparrows spend much of their time on the ground but also perch in trees and shrubs and on fence posts and wires. Males and females form monogamous bonds for a single breeding season. When courting, the male hops in a line and then crouches on the ground holding his tail up at an angle. He then spreads his tail feathers, showing off the white tips, and struts with his wings drooping nearly to the ground, almost like a turkey. When the female is receptive, the male gives her a small twig just before copulation. Males don't tolerate other males in their territory and quickly threaten them by raising the head, a display that frequently leads to both birds flying at each other and grappling in midair. Female intruders, on the other hand, are met with courtship displays. Once incubation is nearly over, Lark Sparrows become more tolerant and often forage in groups. In the winter, they form feeding flocks and frequently mix with White-crowned Sparrows and Vesper Sparrows.

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Conservation

Conservation Low Concern

Lark Sparrows are common, but their populations declined by 32% between 1970 and 2014, according to Partners in Flight. The estimated global breeding population is 11 million. The species rates a 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, which means it is not on the Partners in Flight Watch List and is a species of low conservation concern. Following forest clearing in the Midwest and the eastern United States in the mid 1800s to early 1900s, Lark Sparrows expanded their range eastward and bred as far as east as New York. But by the mid 1930s forests started to grow back and urbanization increased, pushing Lark Sparrows back westward. Causes of the more recent population declines across its range are not well understood but could be due to habitat loss or to increased fire frequency in grasslands dominated by non-native grasses.

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Backyard Tips

Within their range, Lark Sparrows sometimes visit backyards to eat seeds. This map shows approximate locations where Project FeederWatch participants have reported Lark Sparrows in their backyard counts over the years.

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Credits

Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love (2017). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2017.1. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory, Laurel, MD, USA.

Martin, John W. and Jimmie R. Parrish. 2000. Lark Sparrow (Chondestes grammacus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Pieplow, N. (2017). Peterson field guide to bird sounds of eastern North America. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, NY, USA.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski, Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, USA.

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