Horned Lark

Eremophila alpestris

  • Version: 2.0 — Published January 1, 1995
  • Robert C. Beason

Free Introduction Article Access

The Introduction Article is just the first of 11 articles in each species account that provide life history information for the species. The remaining articles provide detailed information regarding distribution, migration, habitat, diet, sounds, behavior, breeding, current population status and conservation. Each species account also includes a multimedia section that displays the latest photos, audio selections and videos from Macaulay Library’s extensive galleries. Written and continually updated by acknowledged experts on each species, Birds of North America accounts include a comprehensive bibliography of published research on the species.

A subscription is needed to access the remaining account articles and multimedia content. Rates start at $5 USD for 30 days of complete access.

Subscribe Now

Already a subscriber? Sign In
Figure 1. Distribution of the Horned Lark in North America.

This species also breeds in the Palearctic; see text and Cramp 1988 for details.

Adult male Horned Lark; Colorado, July

Pawnee National Grasslands, CO; 7/6/05. Subspecies E. a. leucolaema; note pale dorsal plumage, here a worn Definitive Basic.  This bird will likely molt in 1-2 months.  ; photographer Ernesto Scott

The Horned Lark is the only member of the family Alaudidae that is native to North America. Linnaeus named this species Alauda alpestris, which means "lark of the mountains." Its distribution is holarctic, from the Arctic south to central Asia and Mexico with outlying populations in Morocco and Colombia. A common, widespread bird of the open country, the Horned Lark prefers short, sparsely vegetated prairies, deserts, and agricultural lands. Although its numbers increased dramatically in eastern North America during the last half of the nineteenth century, they have remained relatively stable over the past twenty-five years.

Horned Larks often sing in flight, and in such instances the song appears to function in courtship. Adults eat primarily weed and grass seeds, but they feed insects to their young. The species has been reported to be mostly monogamous, but no studies have been conducted to examine the possibility of extra-pair copulations or the duration of the pair bond.

In North America, geographic variation is most obvious in body size and coloration, especially of the eyebrow stripe, throat, and ear coverts, which vary from white to yellow. The variation in back color is strongly correlated with the color of the local soil. Eurasian races may have the broad black cheek joined with the extensive chest patch, isolating a small, light throat patch (Cramp 1985a). Males and females are similar, but females tend to be slightly smaller and their plumages duller.

In Europe and Asia, where this species occurs from the Arctic south to north Africa, it is known as the Shore Lark (or Shorelark).

Recommended Citation

Beason, R. C. (1995). Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.