The Horned Lark starts returning to its breeding grounds in early March (some individuals will overwinter even in the northern Plains states). One of the earliest of the small birds to nest, Horned Lark nests with eggs have been found in Ontario and South Dakota as early as April.
Horned LarkEremophila alpestris
On open fields in winter, flocks of Horned Larks walk and run on the ground. If disturbed, the flock circles in swift, twisting flight, making soft lisping call notes. This species, our only native lark, begins nesting very early in spring in those same barren fields, and the tinkling songs of the males come from high overhead as they perform their flight-song display. The "horns" of the Horned Lark are little tufts of feathers, visible only at close range.
Field MarksNote the head design. A brown ground bird, with black sideburns, two small black horns (not always noticeable), and a black breast splotch. Walks, does not hop. Overhead, pale with a black tail; folds wings after each beat. Female and immature duller, but with the basic pattern. Varies from paler to darker races.
Size7-8" (18-20 cm)
VoiceSong, tinkling, irregular, high-pitched, often prolonged; from ground or high in air. Note, a clear tsee-titi.
RangeBreeds widely in Northern Hemisphere (south locally to northern Africa, northern South America); some migration.
MigrationPresent all year in most areas from southern Canada south; some are probably permanent residents. Migratory in far north. One of the earliest spring migrants.
HabitatPrairies, fields, airports, shores, tundra. Inhabits open ground, generally avoiding areas with trees or even bushes. May occur in a wide variety of situations that are sufficiently open: shortgrass prairies, extensive lawns (as on airports or golf courses), plowed fields, stubble fields, beaches, lake flats, dry tundra of far north, or high mountains.
FeedingDiet: Seeds and insects. Feeds on small seeds from a great variety of grasses and weeds, also waste grain. Many insects are also eaten, especially in summer, when they may make up half of the total diet. Also eats some insects and snails, and eats berries of low-growing plants in some regions.
Behavior: Forages entirely by walking and running on the ground, picking up items from ground or from plants low enough to reach. Except when nesting, usually forages in flocks.
NestingOften nests quite early in spring. Male defends nesting territory by singing, either on ground or while flying. Male flies up steeply in silence, often to several hundred feet above ground, then hovers and circles for several minutes while singing; finally dives steeply toward the ground.
Nest: Site is on open ground, often next to grass clump, piece of dried cow manure, other object. Nest (built by female) is slight depression lined with grass, weeds, rootlets, with inner lining of fine grass or plant down. One side of nest often has flat "doorstep" of pebbles.
Eggs: 3-4, sometimes 2-5. Pale gray to greenish white, blotched and spotted with brown. Incubation is by female, about 10-12 days.
Young: Fed by both parents. Young may leave nest after 9-12 days; are not able to fly for another week. 1 brood per year in far north, 2-3 farther south.
ConservationDoes well on overgrazed or abused land, so has probably increased in North America with advance of civilization.