The Horned Lark

By Dave Hanks

Two black, “horn-like” feather tufts and a black and yellow face pattern distinguish this common bird. There are three black stripes: one across its throat, one between its eyes, and one on the forehead between the horn tufts. The belly is white and its back surfaces are a pale brown. It has long hind claws for stability while standing on the ground, where it often digs with its bill in the search for insects and seeds.

Larks are old world species and the Horned Lark (called a Shore Lark in Europe) is the only true lark found in America. Our Meadowlark is actually in the Blackbird Family. This lark, however, is common and widespread over our nation in open country and, as we drive the many back roads, we see it fleeing our approach. Larks have more extravagant songs than other birds. Because they inhabit open country, these songs are often rendered while in flight.

They breed in open grasslands and build a grass nest, which is usually domed. The male, in courtship, will ascend up to 800 feet and then dive with his wings folded. He will also prance on the ground – horn tufts extended and wings slouched.

Although very common, it is a species that is hard to get close to. I have had some success at Hill City’s Camas Marsh. It is a habitat that we visit each spring, and the marsh has many random posts around its edges. They seem to be attractive perches, and I was able to catch Horned Larks up close.

If you happen to be driving along a rural road and witness small, seemingly drab, brown birds dashing away from the road or barrow pit – you are most likely seeing the rear-ends of Horned Larks.

(A rare frontal pose)