Alaudidae – Larks

Red Lark Calendulauda burra ©Trevor Hardaker Website

Larks are passerine birds of the family Alaudidae. All species occur in the Old World, and in northern and eastern Australia. Only one, the horned lark, is also found in North America. Habitats vary widely, but many species live in dry regions.

Larks are small- to medium-sized birds, 12 to 24cm in length and 15 to 75g in mass.

They have more elaborate calls than most birds, and often extravagant songs given in display flight. These melodious sounds (to human ears), combined with a willingness to expand into anthropogenic habitats, as long as these are not too intensively managed, have ensured larks a prominent place in literature and music, especially the Eurasian skylark in northern Europe and the crested lark and calandra lark in southern Europe.

With these song flights, males defend their breeding territories and attract mates. Most species build nests on the ground, usually cups of dead grass, but in some species the nests are more complicated and partly domed. A few desert species nest very low in bushes, perhaps so circulating air can cool the nest. Larks’ eggs are usually speckled, and clutch sizes range from two (especially in species of the driest deserts) to six (in species of temperate regions). Larks incubate for 11 to 16 days.

Like many ground birds, most lark species have long hind claws, which are thought to provide stability while standing. Most have streaked brown plumage, some boldly marked with black or white. Their dull appearance camouflages them on the ground, especially when on the nest. They feed on insects and seeds; though adults of most species eat seeds primarily, all species feed their young insects for at least the first week after hatching. Many species dig with their bills to uncover food. Some larks have heavy bills (reaching an extreme in the thick-billed lark) for cracking seeds open, while others have long, down-curved bills, which are especially suitable for digging.

They are the only passerines that lose all their feathers in their first moult (in all species whose first moult is known). This may result from the poor quality of the chicks’ feathers, which in turn may result from the benefits to the parents of switching the young to a lower-quality diet (seeds), which requires less work from the parents.

In many respects, including long tertial feathers, larks resemble other ground birds such as pipits. However, in larks the tarsus (the lowest leg bone, connected to the toes) has only one set of scales on the rear surface, which is rounded. Pipits and all other songbirds have two plates of scales on the rear surface, which meet at a protruding rear edge (Ridgway 1907).

According to the IOC there are 98 species of lark; they are:

Greater Hoopoe-Lark Alaemon alaudipes
Lesser Hoopoe-Lark Alaemon hamertoni

Beesley’s Lark Chersomanes beesleyi
Spike-heeled Lark Chersomanes albofasciata

Gray’s Lark Ammomanopsis grayi

Short-clawed Lark Certhilauda chuana
Karoo Long-billed Lark Certhilauda subcoronata
Benguela Long-billed Lark Certhilauda benguelensis
Eastern Long-billed Lark Certhilauda semitorquata
Cape Long-billed Lark Certhilauda curvirostris
Agulhas Long-billed Lark Certhilauda brevirostris

Dusky Lark Pinarocorys nigricans
Rufous-rumped Lark Pinarocorys erythropygia

Thick-billed Lark Ramphocoris clotbey

Desert Lark Ammomanes deserti
Bar-tailed Lark Ammomanes cinctura
Rufous-tailed Lark Ammomanes phoenicura

Black-eared Sparrow-Lark Eremopterix australis
Madagascan Lark Eremopterix hova
Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark Eremopterix nigriceps
Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark Eremopterix leucotis
Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark Eremopterix griseus
Chestnut-headed Sparrow-Lark Eremopterix signatus
Grey-backed Sparrow-Lark Eremopterix verticalis
Fischer’s Sparrow-Lark Eremopterix leucopareia

Sabota Lark Calendulauda sabota
Pink-breasted Lark Calendulauda poecilosterna
Foxy Lark Calendulauda alopex
Fawn-colored Lark Calendulauda africanoides
Karoo Lark Calendulauda albescens
Red Lark Calendulauda burra
Dune Lark Calendulauda erythrochlamys
Barlow’s Lark Calendulauda barlowi

Rudd’s Lark Heteromirafra ruddi
Archer’s Lark Heteromirafra archeri

Eastern Clapper Lark Mirafra fasciolata
Cape Clapper Lark Mirafra apiata
Red-winged Lark Mirafra hypermetra
Rufous-naped Lark Mirafra africana
Flappet Lark Mirafra rufocinnamomea
Angolan Lark Mirafra angolensis
Williams’s Lark Mirafra williamsi
Monotonous Lark Mirafra passerina
Melodious Lark Mirafra cheniana
Horsfield’s Bush Lark Mirafra javanica
Singing Bush Lark Mirafra cantillans
Burmese Bush Lark Mirafra microptera
Bengal Bush Lark Mirafra assamica
Indochinese Bush Lark Mirafra erythrocephala
Indian Bush Lark Mirafra erythroptera
Jerdon’s Bush Lark Mirafra affinis
Gillett’s Lark Mirafra gilletti
Rusty Bush Lark Mirafra rufa
Collared Lark Mirafra collaris
Ash’s Lark Mirafra ashi
Somali Lark Mirafra somalica
Friedmann’s Lark Mirafra pulpa
Kordofan Lark Mirafra cordofanica
White-tailed Lark Mirafra albicauda

Woodlark Lullula arborea

Obbia Lark Spizocorys obbiensis
Sclater’s Lark Spizocorys sclateri
Stark’s Lark Spizocorys starki
Short-tailed Lark Spizocorys fremantlii
Masked Lark Spizocorys personata
Botha’s Lark Spizocorys fringillaris
Pink-billed Lark Spizocorys conirostris

White-winged Lark Alauda leucoptera
Raso Lark Alauda razae
Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula
Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis

Sykes’s Lark Galerida deva
Sun Lark Galerida modesta
Large-billed Lark Galerida magnirostris
Thekla Lark Galerida theklae
Crested Lark Galerida cristata
Malabar Lark Galerida malabarica
Maghreb Lark Galerida macrorhyncha

Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris
Temminck’s Lark Eremophila bilopha

Hume’s Short-toed Lark Calandrella acutirostris
Mongolian Short-toed Lark Calandrella dukhunensis
Erlanger’s Lark Calandrella erlangeri
Blanford’s Lark Calandrella blanfordi
Red-capped Lark Calandrella cinerea
Greater Short-toed Lark Calandrella brachydactyla

Bimaculated Lark Melanocorypha bimaculata
Calandra Lark Melanocorypha calandra
Black Lark Melanocorypha yeltoniensis
Mongolian Lark Melanocorypha mongolica
Tibetan Lark Melanocorypha maxima

Dupont’s Lark Chersophilus duponti

Dunn’s Lark Eremalauda dunni

Athi Short-toed Lark Alaudala athensis
Asian Short-toed Lark Alaudala cheleensis
Somali Short-toed Lark Alaudala somalica
Lesser Short-toed Lark Alaudala rufescens
Sand Lark Alaudala raytal

Species Links
  • Red Lark Calendulauda burra

    IUCN Species Status
    19 cm. Large, chunky lark. Heavily streaked breast, white eye-stripe and dark ear-coverts. Heavy bill.
  • Red Lark Calendulauda burra

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Red Lark Calendulauda burra

    Species Account
    The red lark (Calendulauda burra), also known as the ferruginous lark or ferruginous sand-lark, is a species of lark in the Alaudidae family. It is found in western South Africa and possibly Namibia. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical dry shrubland and subtropical or tropical dry lowland grassland. It is threatened by habitat loss.
  • Skylark Alauda arvensis

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
  • Skylark Alauda arvensis

    Species Account
    The Eurasian skylark (Alauda arvensis) is a small passerine bird species. It is a wide-spread species found across Europe and Asia with introduced populations in many other parts of the world. The genus name is from the Latin alauda, "lark". Pliny thought the word was originally of Celtic origin.
  • Skylark Alauda arvensis

    RSPB Species Account
    The skylark is a small brown bird, somewhat larger than a sparrow but smaller than a starling. It is streaky brown with a small crest, which can be raised when the bird is excited or alarmed, and a white-sided tail.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 98

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