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Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris


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Horned Lark, male
credit: Andreas Trepte/CCSA

© Lang Elliot/ (audio)

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Family: Alaudidae, Larks view all from this family

Description ADULT Has black mask, breast band, forecrown, and "horns"; face is otherwise yellowish. Underparts are whitish overall. Upperparts are sandy brown overall with rufous wash on shoulders and nape. Subspecies from interior are paler overall with "colder" sandy brown upperparts and only a hint of yellow wash on pale plumage elements of face. JUVENILE Speckled, with a hint of the adult's facial markings.

Dimensions Length: 7-8" (18-20 cm)

Habitat Common in open, barren habitats ranging from tundra and grassland to deserts. Present year-round, represented by some sedentary subspecies across much of U.S., but northern and tundra-breeding populations (including ssp. alpestris) move south for the winter.

Observation Tips Easy to locate and sometimes found in sizeable, mixed-species flocks in winter.

Range New England, Alaska, Southwest, Mid-Atlantic, Plains, Florida, Rocky Mountains, Great Lakes, Northwest, Eastern Canada, California, Texas, Western Canada, Southeast

Voice Flight calls include a thin tsee-titi; song is a series of tinkling notes, preceded by a few rasping chrrt notes.

Discussion Distinctive ground-dwelling songbird that is rather long-bodied and is recognized by its striking black and yellowish facial markings and "horn-like" head feathers; these features are particularly striking in summer males. Many subspecies exist in North America, differing in size, intensity of yellow on face, and shade of brown on upperparts; the ranges of some of these subspecies overlap in winter. Forms flocks outside the breeding season, sometimes mixing with longspurs. In flight, all birds show pale underwings. Sexes are similar, but females are duller than their respective subspecies male counterparts. Unless otherwise stated, ssp. alpestris, widespread in the northeast, is described below.