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An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and Bird of the Week, the Horned Lark

Aug 10, 2017 06:03AM ● By Paul Spear

An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem,  Bryan Brillhart Photography present the “Dig IB” Bird of the Week, the Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)

The column will provide a picture of a bird(s) locally photographed and we will have background on the bird.

The Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris)

This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris). Unlike most other larks, this is a distinctive-looking species on the ground, mainly brown-grey above and pale below, with a striking black and yellow face pattern. Except for the central feathers, the tail is mostly black, contrasting with the paler body; this contrast is especially noticeable when the bird is in flight. The summer male has black "horns", which give this species its American name. America has a number of races distinguished by the face pattern and back color of males, especially in summer.

On open fields in winter, flocks of Horned Larks walk and run on the ground, examining the soil and stubble in search of seeds. If disturbed, the flock makes away in swift, twisting flight, making soft lisping call notes. This species, the only native lark in North America, 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.

The Horned Lark does well on overgrazed or abused land, so its numbers probably have increased in North America with the advance of civilization.

Habitat is on prairies, fields, airports, shores, and tundra. They inhabit open ground, generally avoiding areas with trees or even bushes.

Horned Larks forage entirely by walking and running on the ground, picking up items from the 

ground or from plants low enough to reach. Except when nesting, they usually forage in flocks. They feed on small seeds from a great variety of grasses and weeds, and also on waste grain. Many insects are also eaten, especially in summer, when they may make up half of the total diet. They also eat some spiders and snails, and berries of low-growing plants in some regions.

After mating, females lay 3-4, sometimes 2-5, pale gray to greenish white, blotched and spotted with brown eggs. Incubation is by females in about 10-12 days. Young are fed by both parents. Young may leave the nest after 9-12 days, but are not able to fly for another week. There is usually only 1 brood per year in far north, and 2-3 farther south.

Horned Larks often nest quite early in the spring. Males defend nesting territory by singing, either on the ground or in flight. In flight song display, the male flies up steeply in silence, often to several hundred feet above ground, then hovers and circles for several minutes while singing; finally diving steeply toward the ground. Nest site is on open ground, often next to a grass clump, a piece of dried cow manure, or other object. Nests (built by female) are a slight depression in ground, lined with grass, weeds, rootlets, with an inner lining of fine grass or plant down. One side of nest often has flat "doorstep" of pebbles.

I spotted a few Horned Larks on our beach near the Tijuana River mouth recently. I enjoyed seeing their tufted horns and colorful feathers. See what species you can find while enjoying a beach walk or a bike ride on the many trails in our terrific Tijuana Estuary. Until next week, happy birding!


If you would like to see more of Bryan's Bird Photos you can click on this link:

Bryan Brillhart Photography or Bird of the Week

Bryan Brillhart


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