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Horned Lark

Eremophila alpestris

The Horned Lark is the only true lark native to North America, and is a common, widespread bird of open grassland country, and live year-round over most of the USA’s lower forty-eight and northern Mexico, but in summer some will migrate north to Alaska and Canada’s Arctic islands. They are equally at home at sea level, to the high mountains (hence the name alpestris, meaning “of the high mountains”) and all elevations in between. Yet despite this versatility, their numbers have declined during the past half-century.

Not just a native to North America, Horned Larks occupy an equally wide range of habitats in Asia and eastern Europe. With such a wide distribution around the globe, it is no surprise there would be substantial variation in this species. In fact, science currently recognises 42 different subspecies of Horned Lark across our planet.

Horned Larks have some interesting breeding and nesting behaviours. When it comes time for courting, the female advertises her readiness for breeding by bowing low to the ground in what looks like taking a dust bath. Interested males will hover in low orbiting flights over her. Later she will spend a few days excavating a depression on the ground as a nesting site, later lining it with grasses, and finally she paves her porch with pebbles and other objects. Science doesn’t understand the reason for the paving.

My meetings with these birds have been in California, Nevada, Idaho and Utah. I’ve only met one juvenile Horned Lark during the first BioBlitz event the San Diego Natural History Museum held in Balboa Park in May 2008.

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