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Reproduction

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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: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous

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

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Behavior

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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

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Conservation Status

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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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Comprehensive Description

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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.

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Benefits

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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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Benefits

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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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Associations

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As insectivores, larks affect insect populations throughout their range.

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Trophic Strategy

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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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Distribution

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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

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Habitat

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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

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Life Expectancy

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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.

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Morphology

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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

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry

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Associations

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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:

  • falcons (Falconidae)
  • owls (Strigiformes)
  • shrikes (Laniidae)
  • weasels (Mustelinae)
  • skunks (Mephitinae)
  • squirrels (Sciruidae)
  • raccoons (Procyon lotor)
  • house cats (Felis domesticus)
  • voles and mice (Rodentia)
  • shrews (Sorex)
  • crows (Corvidae)
  • western meadowlarks (Sturnella neglecta)

Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic

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Brief Summary

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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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Lark

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For other uses, see Lark (disambiguation).
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Larks are passerine birds of the family Alaudidae. Larks have a cosmopolitan distribution with the largest number of species occurring in Africa. Only a single species, the horned lark, occurs in North America, and only Horsfield's bush lark occurs in Australia. Habitats vary widely, but many species live in dry regions.

Taxonomy and systematics

The family Alaudidae was introduced in 1825 by the Irish zoologist Nicholas Aylward Vigors as a subfamily Alaudina of the finch family Fringillidae.[1][2] Larks are a well-defined family, partly because of the shape of their tarsus.[3] They have multiple scutes on the hind side of their tarsi, rather than the single plate found in most songbirds. They also lack a pessulus, the bony central structure in the syrinx of songbirds.[4] 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.[5] Some authorities, such as the British Ornithologists' Union[6] 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 south-eastern 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.[7][8] Molecular phylogenetic studies have shown that within the Sylvioidea the larks form a sister clade to the Panuridae family which contains a single species, the bearded reedling (Panurus biarmicus).[9] The phylogeny of larks (Alaudidae) was reviewed in 2013, leading to the recognition of the arrangement below.[10][11]

Extant genera

The family Alaudidae contains 98 extant species which are divided into 21 genera:[11]

Extinct genera

Description

Larks, which are part of the family Alaudidae, are small- to medium-sized birds, 12 to 24 cm (4.7 to 9.4 in) in length and 15 to 75 g (0.5 to 2.6 oz) in mass.[12]

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.[12]

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.[12]

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).

Calls and song

Larks have more elaborate calls than most birds, and often extravagant songs given in display flight.[12] 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.

Behaviour

Breeding

Male larks use song flights to defend their breeding territory and attract a mate. 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.[12] Larks' eggs are usually speckled. The size of the clutch is very variable and ranges from the single egg laid by Sclater's lark up to 6-8 eggs laid by the calandra lark and the black lark.[13] Larks incubate for 11 to 16 days.[12]

In culture

Larks as food

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.[14]

Symbolism

The lark in mythology and literature stands for daybreak, as in Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale", "the bisy larke, messager 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" (as in Bernart de Ventadorn's Can vei la lauzeta mover) 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

Traditionally larks are kept as pets in China. In Beijing, larks are taught to mimic 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).

See also

References

  1. ^ Bock, Walter J. (1994). History and Nomenclature of Avian Family-Group Names. Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History. Number 222. New York: American Museum of Natural History. pp. 149, 264..mw-parser-output cite.citation{font-style:inherit}.mw-parser-output q{quotes:"""""'"'"}.mw-parser-output code.cs1-code{color:inherit;background:inherit;border:inherit;padding:inherit}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-free a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/6/65/Lock-green.svg/9px-Lock-green.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-limited a,.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-registration a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d6/Lock-gray-alt-2.svg/9px-Lock-gray-alt-2.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-lock-subscription a{background:url("//upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/a/aa/Lock-red-alt-2.svg/9px-Lock-red-alt-2.svg.png")no-repeat;background-position:right .1em center}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration{color:#555}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription span,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration span{border-bottom:1px dotted;cursor:help}.mw-parser-output .cs1-hidden-error{display:none;font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-visible-error{font-size:100%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-subscription,.mw-parser-output .cs1-registration,.mw-parser-output .cs1-format{font-size:95%}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-left,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-left{padding-left:0.2em}.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-right,.mw-parser-output .cs1-kern-wl-right{padding-right:0.2em}
  2. ^ Vigors, Nicholas Aylward (1825). "On the arrangement of the genera of birds". Zoological Journal. 2: 391-405 [398].
  3. ^ Ridgway, Robert (1907). "The Birds of North and Middle America, Part IV". Bulletin of the United States National Museum. 50: 289–290.
  4. ^ Ames, Peter L. (1971). The morphology of the syrinx in passerine birds (PDF). Bulletin 37, Peabody Museum of Natural History. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University. p. 104.
  5. ^ Patterson, Bob (2002). "The History of North American Bird Names in the American Ornithologists' Union Checklists 1886 - 2000". Retrieved 24 June 2008.
  6. ^ Dudley, Steve P.; Gee, Mike; Kehoe, Chris; Melling, Tim M. (2006). "The British List: A Checklist of Birds of Britain (7th edition)". Ibis. 148 (3): 526–563. doi:10.1111/j.1474-919X.2006.00603.x. Retrieved 24 June 2008.
  7. ^ Barker, F. Keith; Barrowclough, George F.; Groth, Jeff G. (2002). "A phylogenetic hypothesis for passerine birds: taxonomic and biogeographic implications of an analysis of nuclear DNA sequence data". Proceedings of the Royal Society B. 269 (1488): 295–308. doi:10.1098/rspb.2001.1883. PMC 1690884.
  8. ^ Alström, Per; Ericson, Per G.P.; Olsson, Urban; Sundberg, Per (2006). "Phylogeny and classification of the avian superfamily Sylvioidea". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 38 (2): 381–397. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2005.05.015. PMID 16054402.
  9. ^ Fregin, Silke; Haase, Martin; Olsson, Urban; Alström, Per (2012). "New insights into family relationships within the avian superfamily Sylvioidea (Passeriformes) based on seven molecular markers". BMC Evolutionary Biology. 12 (157): 1–12. doi:10.1186/1471-2148-12-157.
  10. ^ Alström, Per; Barnes, Keith N.; Olsson, Urban; Barker, F. Keith; Bloomer, Paulette; Khan, Aleem Ahmed; Qureshi, Masood Ahmed; Guillaumet, Alban; Crochet, Pierre-Andre; Ryan, Peter G. (2013). "Multilocus phylogeny of the avian family Alaudidae (larks) reveals complex morphological evolution, non-monophyletic genera and hidden species diversity" (PDF). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 69 (3): 1043–1056. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2013.06.005.
  11. ^ a b Gill, Frank; Donsker, David, eds. (2018). "Nicators, reedling, larks". World Bird List Version 8.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 15 July 2018.
  12. ^ a b c d e f Kikkawa, Jiro (2003). "Larks". In Perrins, Christopher. Firefly Encyclopedia of Birds. Firefly Books. pp. 578–583. ISBN 1-55297-777-3.
  13. ^ de Juana, E.; Suárez, F.; Ryan, P. (2018). del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J.; Christie, D.A.; de Juana, E., eds. "Larks (Alaudidae)". Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions. Retrieved 22 July 2018. (Subscription required (help)).
  14. ^ Hooper, John (2010-02-17). "Cat, dormouse and other Italian recipes". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2010-05-07.

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Lark: Brief Summary

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Larks are passerine birds of the family Alaudidae. Larks have a cosmopolitan distribution with the largest number of species occurring in Africa. Only a single species, the horned lark, occurs in North America, and only Horsfield's bush lark occurs in Australia. Habitats vary widely, but many species live in dry regions.

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