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Overview

Brief Summary

Larks can not depend upon their plumage for attraction, which is brown or mouse-gray. To make an impression, they rise to great heights while singing, where they stay suspended in the air, followed by a fall resembling a parachute dropping to the ground. Larks are small songbirds that eat insects and seeds.
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Comprehensive Description

Diversity

Larks belong to the order Passeriformes, sub-order Passeri and family Alaudidae. Currently there are 17 recognized lark genera and 91 species.

Larks are small to medium-sized birds (11 to 19 cm in length) that reside in open countryside from desert to alpine tundra. They vary in color from light tan to reddish and tend to blend in well with the soil and vegetation in their chosen habitat.

Larks (particularly sky larks (Alauda arvensis)) have provided inspiration for many poets with their complex and beautiful songs. They are primarily Old World inhabitants. Horned larks (Eremophila alpestris) are the only native lark species in North America.

  • Simms, E. 1992. British Larks, Pipits & Wagtails. London: Harper Collins Publishers.
  • Dean, W., C. Fry, S. Keith, P. Lack. 1992. Family Alaudidae: Larks. Pp. 13-124 in S Keith, E Urban, C Fry, eds. The Birds of Africa, Vol. IV. London: Academic Press.
  • Payne, R. 2003. "Bird Families of the World" (On-line). Accessed October 27, 2003 at http://www.ummz.lsa.umich.edu/birds/Bird_Families_of_the_World.html.
  • Trost, C. 2001. Larks. Pp. 416-418 in C Elphick, J Dunning, D Sibley, eds. The Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.
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Distribution

Geographic Range

Larks primarily live in the Old World. Fifty-seven percent of lark species are found in Africa, 19 percent in Africa and Eurasia, 16 percent in Asia, 6 percent in Eurasia and 1 percent in the New World. Horned larks (Eremophila alpestris) are the only lark species native to North America. Skylarks (Alauda arvensis) were introduced to Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada and can still be found there, and occasionally in Washington state. Skylarks were also introduced to Australia and New Zealand.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Introduced , Native ); palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Native ); neotropical (Native ); australian (Introduced , Native )

Other Geographic Terms: holarctic ; cosmopolitan

  • Campbell, B., E. Lack. 1985. A Dictionary of Birds. Vermillion: Buteo Books.
  • Campbell, R., N. Dawe, I. McTaggart-Cowan, J. Cooper, G. Kaiser, M. McNall, G. Smith. 1997. The Birds of British Columbia, Volume 3, Passerines, Flycatchers through Vireos. Vancouver: UBC Press.
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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

Larks are small- to medium-sized birds (11 to 19 cm long, 15 to 75 g) with fairly long legs, wings and tail. Most have long straight claws on their hind toes. The length of the claw depends on the bird’s habitat; longer claws are found on birds that live in areas with soft ground and some vegetation, shorter claws and toes are found on species that live in areas with harder ground. Their brown plumage (ranging from light tan to reddish) is often cryptic and matches the soil color. Some species have crests or tufts of feathers on their head. Sexes resemble each other, but males are usually larger and may have brighter, more distinct color and marking than females. Bill shape and length varies between species and can be a good indication of feeding ecology. Razo larks (Alauda razae) show sexual dimorphism in bill length. The male’s bill is 20 percent longer than the female’s, which suggests that males and females exploit different food sources. Larks molt once or twice per year depending on the species. Juveniles have less distinct coloring and patterns than adult birds.

Sexual Dimorphism: male larger; sexes colored or patterned differently; male more colorful

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Ecology

Habitat

Larks inhabit open countryside in both temperate and tropical regions. Their habitat includes: shrubland, savana, desert, tundra, grassland and farmland. Larks can be found in habitats from coastal areas at sea level to mountainous areas at an elevation of 4000 m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: tundra ; desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; mountains

Other Habitat Features: agricultural

  • Mead, C. 1985. Larks, Wagtails and Pipits. Pp. 336-338 in C Perrins, A Middleton, eds. The Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Facts on File Publications.
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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Larks are omnivorous and forage on the ground. They eat many species of insects in addition to seeds, grasses, leaves, buds, fruits and flowers (especially during the winter when insects are less available). Some species will also eat snails (Gastropoda), which they break open on rocks. Larks' insect prey are diverse and include: Ephemeroptera (mayflies), Diptera (true flies), Hemiptera (true bugs), Coleoptera (beetles), Collembola (springtails), Orthoptera (grasshoppers), Lepidoptera (adult and larval moths) and Isoptera (termites). Skylarks (Alauda arvensis) in England feed on at least 47 species of insect. Desert species acquire water from their food and dew.

The shape of a Lark’s bill is adapted to its diet and feeding technique. For example, hoopoe larks (Alaemon) have long decurved bills that are used for digging for insect larvae, while calandra larks (Melanocorypha) have strong, stout bills that are used for eating seeds. Some can also locate buried insects by ear.

Primary Diet: carnivore (Insectivore , Molluscivore ); herbivore (Folivore , Frugivore , Granivore ); omnivore

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Associations

In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Animal / parasite / ectoparasite
imago of Ornithomya chloropus ectoparasitises Alaudidae

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Ecosystem Roles

As insectivores, larks affect insect populations throughout their range.

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Predation

Adult larks have numerous avian predators: falcons (Falconiformes), owls (Strigiformes) and shrikes (Laniidae). Adults, chicks and eggs are also taken by mammals. Common mammalian predators include: weasels (Mustelinae), skunks (Mephitinae), squirrels (Sciruidae), raccoons (Procyon lotor) and house cats (Felis domesticus). Additional nest predators include: voles and mice (Rodentia), shrews (Sorex), crows (Corvidae) and western meadowlarks (Sturnella neglecta). Up to 90 percent of lark nests may be lost to predators.

In response to nest predators, incubating females will flush silently when the predator is far from the nest; if the predator is close to the nest she will feign injury to draw it away. Young larks leave the nest early, this is thought to decrease predation and/or decrease the chance that an entire clutch is lost simultaneously.

Larks’ cryptic plumage allows them to blend in with the ground and makes it more difficult for predators to spot them; they will often avoid using patches of ground that do not match their coloration. Foraging in flocks is also thought to be an adaptation to reduce predation.

Known Predators:

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

  • Beason, R. 1995. Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris). A Poole, F Gill, eds. The Birds of North America, Vol. 195. The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologist's Union, Washington, D.C.
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Known predators

Alaudidae (doves, larks, sandgrouse) is prey of:
Serpentes
Varanidae
Erinaceus europaeus
Felis silvestris libyca
Accipiter badius

Based on studies in:
India, Rajasthan Desert (Desert or dune)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • I. K. Sharma, A study of ecosystems of the Indian desert, Trans. Indian Soc. Desert Technol. and Univ. Center Desert Stud. 5(2):51-55, from p. 52 and A study of agro-ecosystems in the Indian desert, ibid. 5:77-82, from p. 79 1980).
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Known prey organisms

Alaudidae (doves, larks, sandgrouse) preys on:
Eleucine
Cyperus
Cenchrus

Based on studies in:
India, Rajasthan Desert (Desert or dune)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • I. K. Sharma, A study of ecosystems of the Indian desert, Trans. Indian Soc. Desert Technol. and Univ. Center Desert Stud. 5(2):51-55, from p. 52 and A study of agro-ecosystems in the Indian desert, ibid. 5:77-82, from p. 79 1980).
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Lark flight, feeding, threat and display calls are quite simple, however, their territorial song is very elaborate. In addition to communicating through song, larks will raise the crest of feathers in their head during agonistic and courtship displays.

Larks can locate buried insects by ear while foraging.

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Like most small birds, larks probably live on average only two to five years. The longest living known individuals are an 8 year, 5 month old skylark (Alauda arvensis) and a 7 year 11 month old horned lark (Eremophila alpestris). Average annual mortality for skylarks is 33 percent.

  • Gill, F. 1995. Ornithology, Second Edition. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company.
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Reproduction

Although there have been some observations of polygyny, larks are largely monogamous. Females do the majority of the nest building, incubation and brooding, and both adults take part in feeding the young. Males perform display flights (high undulating flight accompanied by singing), and will also display with crests, ruffle their plumage, and bow or hop up and down on the ground. Courtship feeding occurs in some species. Males sing from prominent perches; some female larks may also sing during pair formation. Larks are territorial and defend the nest site using song and flight displays.

Cooperative breeding has been observed in one species. The observed group consisted of the breeding pair and a single helper.

Mating System: monogamous ; polygynous ; cooperative breeder

Larks are seasonal breeders, usually breeding during the season of highest insect and seed abundance. Larks living in areas with long breeding seasons can have two or three clutches, while those in areas with a short window of time for breeding will have only one. Larks are solitary breeders and will defend nesting territories.

Most larks are ground nesters and build open-cup nests in small, excavated hollows in the ground. Some species build domed nests and a few build nests in shrubs to allow for increased air circulation and cooling. Nests built on the ground are situated next to small clumps of vegetation, rocks, or mounds of earth for protection and shade from the sun and prevailing wind. Nests are made of grass, plant fibers, forbs, bark, dead leaves and sedges, and are sometimes lined with plant down or feathers. Eggs are smooth, white or light blue with gray or olive-brown spots and range in size from 19 to 23 by 13 to 17 mm. Clutch size is usually 3 to 5, but can be as low as one and as high as eight. The egg-laying interval is every other day. Females usually do all of the incubation and brooding, although males in some species will help. Incubation lasts 10 to 16 days; chicks hatch synchronously and are brooded for about 4 days depending on the weather. Young larks are altricial and are fed by both adults. Chicks are fed insects (and sometime seeds) and leave the nest after about 10 days. Chicks usually fledge before they can fly and continue to be fed by their parents for 18 to 20 days.

As is common among ground nesting species, most nest failure is due to depredation. Nest success is usually 30 to 60 percent, but can be as low as 10 percent.

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); fertilization (Internal )

Female larks do most of the incubating and brooding of chicks (males help in some species). Incubation lasts 10 to 16 days and the altricial chicks are brooded for about 4 days after hatching. Chicks are fed insects and occasionally seeds by both parents. Adults remove fecal sacks from the nests. Nestlings usually fledge before they can fly and continue to receive parental care for 18 to 20 days.

If a predator approaches an active nest, the adults will give alarm calls and often feign injury to draw the predator away. Because many larks nest in open desert areas, chicks are often exposed to sun and heat. Adult birds will stand next to the nest to shade it during the hottest parts of the day.

Parental Investment: altricial ; male parental care ; female parental care

  • Campbell, B., E. Lack. 1985. A Dictionary of Birds. Vermillion: Buteo Books.
  • Ali, S., S. Ripley. 1972. Handbook of the Birds of Indian and Pakistan, Volume 5. London: Oxford University Press.
  • Campbell, R., N. Dawe, I. McTaggart-Cowan, J. Cooper, G. Kaiser, M. McNall, G. Smith. 1997. The Birds of British Columbia, Volume 3, Passerines, Flycatchers through Vireos. Vancouver: UBC Press.
  • Simms, E. 1992. British Larks, Pipits & Wagtails. London: Harper Collins Publishers.
  • Dean, W., C. Fry, S. Keith, P. Lack. 1992. Family Alaudidae: Larks. Pp. 13-124 in S Keith, E Urban, C Fry, eds. The Birds of Africa, Vol. IV. London: Academic Press.
  • Mead, C. 1985. Larks, Wagtails and Pipits. Pp. 336-338 in C Perrins, A Middleton, eds. The Encyclopedia of Birds. New York: Facts on File Publications.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
                                        
Specimen Records:196Public Records:105
Specimens with Sequences:150Public Species:15
Specimens with Barcodes:150Public BINs:19
Species:30         
Species With Barcodes:22         
          
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Barcode data

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Locations of barcode samples

Collection Sites: world map showing specimen collection locations for Alaudidae

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Conservation

Conservation Status

The IUCN lists two species of larks as critically endangered, two species as endangered and four as vulnerable. North American species are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. No larks are listed by CITES or ESA.

Declining numbers are the result of habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation, poisoning from chemicals used on crops and introduced species (especially those that are nest predators). Some species may stand to benefit from the clearing of forested areas to create pastures and arable land.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Because they occasionally feed in flocks in agricultural fields, larks are recognized as agricultural pests. In the United States they will damage crops of beets, broccoli, carrots, lettuce, peas, spinach, tomatoes, alfalfa, grain, sugar beets, cantaloupe and watermelon.

Negative Impacts: crop pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Larks can be important agents in the control of agricultural pests. For example, an adult skylark (Alauda arvensis) was found with 48 weevils (Sitona lineatus) in its stomach. This particular species of weevil is a pest on peas.

Positive Impacts: controls pest population

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Wikipedia

Lark

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 native to North America. Habitats vary widely, but many species live in dry regions.

Description[edit]

Larks are small- to medium-sized birds, 12 to 24 cm (5 to 8 inches) in length and 15 to 75 grams (0.5 to 2.6 ounces) in weight (Kikkawa 2003).

They have more elaborate calls than most birds, and often extravagant songs given in display flight (Kikkawa 2003). 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 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 2 (especially in species of the driest deserts) to 6 (in species of temperate regions). Larks incubate for 11 to 16 days (Kikkawa 2003).

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 (Kikkawa 2003).

Larks 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 (Kikkawa 2003).

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).

Relationships[edit]

Larks are a well-defined family, partly because of the shape of their tarsus (Ridgway 1907). They were long placed at or near the beginning of the songbirds or oscines (now often called Passeri), just after the suboscines and before the swallows, for example in the American Ornithologists' Union's first check-list (American Ornithologists' Union 1886, according to Patterson 2002). Some authorities, such as the British Ornithologists' Union (Dudley et al. 2006) and the Handbook of the Birds of the World, adhere to that placement. However, many other classifications follow the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy in placing the larks in a large oscine subgroup Passerida (which excludes crows, shrikes and their allies, vireos, and many groups characteristic of Australia and southeastern Asia). For instance, the American Ornithologists' Union places larks just after the crows, shrikes, and vireos. At a finer level of detail, some now place the larks at the beginning of a superfamily Sylvioidea with the swallows, various "Old World warbler" and "babbler" groups, and others (Barker et al. 2002, Alström et al. 2006).

Cultural meanings[edit]

Larks as food[edit]

Larks, commonly consumed with bones intact, have historically been considered wholesome, delicate, and light game. They can be used in a number of dishes, for example, they can be stewed, broiled, or used as filling in a meat pie. Lark's tongues were particularly highly valued. In modern times, shrinking habitats made lark meat rare and hard to come by, though it can still be found in restaurants in Italy and elsewhere in Southern Europe (Hooper).

Symbolism[edit]

The lark in mythology and literature stands for daybreak, as in Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale", "the bisy larke, mesager of day" (I.1487; Benson 1988), and Shakespeare's Sonnet 29, "the lark at break of day arising / From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate" (11-12). The lark is also (often simultaneously) associated with "lovers and lovers' observance" and with "church services" (Sylvester and Roberts 2000), and often those the meanings of daybreak and religious reference are combined (in Blake's Visions of the Daughters of Albion, into a "spiritual daybreak" (Baine and Baine 1986)) to signify "passage from Earth to Heaven and from Heaven to Earth" (Stevens 2001). In Renaissance painters such as Domenico Ghirlandaio the lark symbolizes Christ, in reference to John 16:16 (Cadogan 2000).

Pet[edit]

Traditionally larks are kept as pets in China. In Beijing, larks are taught to mimick the voice of other songbirds and animals. It is an old-fashioned habit of the Beijingers to teach their larks 13 kinds of sounds in a strict order (called "the 13 songs of a lark", Chinese: 百灵十三套). The larks that can sing the full 13 sounds in the correct order are highly valued, while any disruption in the songs will decrease its value significantly (Jin 2005).

Species in taxonomic order[edit]

FAMILY: ALAUDIDAE

Fossil record[edit]

Eremarida xerophila (late Miocene of Hrabarsko, Bulgaria)[1]

See also[edit]

  1. ^ Boev, Z. 2012. Neogene Larks (Aves: Alaudidae (Vigors, 1825)) from Bulgaria - Acta zoologica bulgarica, 64 (3), 2012: 295-318.

References[edit]

  • Jin, Shoushen (2005). 金受申讲北京. Beijing: Beijing Press. ISBN 9787200057935. 
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