Hail to thee, blithe spirit!
Bird thou never wert,
That from heaven, or near it,
Pourest thy full heart
In profuse strains of unpremeditated art.
Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1820
In this excerpt from his poem "To a Skylark," Shelley was inspired by the exhilarating sight and sound of the bird's aerial flight-a swift skyward dart followed by a long, steady, graceful descent of the singing bird. This easy field character has made the renowned Sky Lark the best-known member of the lark family.
Two species of larks occur in North America, the Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) and the Sky Lark. The Sky Lark is both an introduced resident and naturally occurring migrant and breeder. Introduced populations are found on southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia; San Juan Island, Washington; and all of the main Hawaiian Islands except Kauai. Nonintroduced birds from northeast Asia populations occur as rare migrants in western Alaska, where they were recently found breeding on the Pribilof Islands, and as casual vagrants to California and Hawaii.
The Sky Lark was introduced to the Hawaiian Archipelago from England in 1865 and from an introduced New Zealand population in 1870. After many unsuccessful introductions in North America, the Sky Lark from Great Britain was successfully released in 1903 into agricultural areas in the Fraser River delta and on southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The mainland population failed, but after additional introductions on southern Vancouver Island, the species became firmly established throughout Victoria and the Saanich Peninsula during the 1940s. Populations increased to fill available habitat during the 1950s and 1960s and reached an all-time high of about 1,000 birds. The Sky Lark extended its range northward on Vancouver Island, east to the Canadian Gulf Islands, and south to the San Juan Islands in Washington. A small colony became established in Cowichan Bay north of Victoria in 1970, and persisted until 1992. Naturally occurring breeders on the Pribilof Islands have been little studied.
As urbanization on Vancouver Island and San Juan Island constricted suitable habitat during the 1980s, populations declined and by the mid-1990s had decreased to about 100 birds. Loss of agricultural habitats to urban development, mowing activities on breeding grounds, and increased agricultural harvests seasonally are reasons for the decline. In the Hawaiian Archipelago, this species is well established and numbers at least 10,000 (Scott et al. 1986).
Sky Larks nest in open, unobstructed habitats that are well covered with short grasses and low herbs. They may occupy the same area for many years. Adults feed mainly on weed seeds and grain, while nestlings are raised initially on a diet of mostly beetles.
Unless otherwise stated, the following information refers to the Sky Lark on southern Vancouver Island, British Columbia.