Living Bird Magazine
Lark BuntingCalamospiza melanocorys
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Passerellidae
North America is home to many handsome sparrows, but Lark Buntings are among the most striking: breeding males are velvety black with snow-white wing coverts and fine white edges to the innermost flight feathers (the tertials). Females, immatures, and nonbreeding males are sandy brown but also have white in the wing, most apparent when the birds are flying. In their preferred grassland habitats, they feed among other sparrows or with quail, often near road edges and often in flocks.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Lark Buntings breed in beautiful, windswept habitats such as the grasslands and shrubsteppe of the Great Plains, where they are most numerous in large expanses of native grasslands with sagebrush. Watch and listen for breeding males as they deliver their flight song, rising up and then gliding down to earth as they sing. In migration and winter, similar habitats are home to roving flocks. Slowly driving through appropriate habitat, watching and listening, is a good way to find this species.
- Chingolo Albinegro (Spanish)
- Bruant noir et blanc (French)
Few backyards have enough open area to attract Lark Buntings regularly, but migrants do occasionally appear in backyards along with other sparrows. Within the species’ range, a water feature, a brush pile, an open sandy area with some native grasses, and offerings of various seeds on the ground might attract a Lark Bunting during migration.
- Cool Facts
- Breeding males have an impressive song flight: they ascend rapidly, then glide earthward, with most of the song given as they slowly descend. This is similar to the displays of some Eurasian lark species (especially the Eurasian Skylark), and is the reason the buntings have "lark" in their common name, despite being unrelated taxonomically.
- Lark Buntings have interesting domestic arrangements. Pairs often nest close to one another in a loose “colony,” much as Dickcissels do. Most are monogamous, but some males breed with multiple partners (a mating system known as polygyny). In other areas, when males outnumber females, unmated males seem to serve as “nest helpers,” bringing food to young at the nest.
- Lark Buntings sing from a perch or in a flight display, and they appear to be unique among birds in having two different flight-song types. The main song, sometimes given in flight, is a series of notes, delivered in distinct phrases, that differ in both pitch and speed. The other flight song is heard mostly from rival males; it contains harsh, low notes, pauses, and sharp whistles.
- An observer in Kansas during the Dust Bowl year of 1937 noted that while other wildlife all but vanished, Lark Buntings actually increased and nested successfully. These birds may be able to survive periods of drought without drinking water, taking moisture from grasshoppers and other insects, their chief food during summer.
- The oldest recorded Lark Bunting was a male, and was at least 4 years, 10 months old when he was found in Arizona, the same state where he had been banded.