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Alauda arvensis 2.jpg
Eurasian skylark (Alauda arvensis)
Scientific classification Red Pencil Icon.png
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Superfamily: Sylvioidea
Family: Alaudidae
Vigors, 1825

see text

Larks are passerine birds of the family Alaudidae. Larks have a cosmopolitan distribution with the largest number of species occurring in Africa. Only a single species, the horned lark, occurs in North America, and only Horsfield's bush lark occurs in Australia. Habitats vary widely, but many species live in dry regions.


Taxonomy and systematics

The family Alaudidae was introduced in 1825 by the Irish zoologist Nicholas Aylward Vigors as a subfamily Alaudina of the finch family Fringillidae. [1] [2] Larks are a well-defined family, partly because of the shape of their tarsus . [3] They have multiple scutes on the hind side of their tarsi, rather than the single plate found in most songbirds. They also lack a pessulus, the bony central structure in the syrinx of songbirds. [4] They were long placed at or near the beginning of the songbirds or oscines (now often called Passeri), just after the suboscines and before the swallows, for example in the American Ornithologists' Union's first check-list. [5] Some authorities, such as the British Ornithologists' Union [6] and the Handbook of the Birds of the World , adhere to that placement. However, many other classifications follow the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy in placing the larks in a large oscine subgroup Passerida (which excludes crows, shrikes and their allies, vireos, and many groups characteristic of Australia and southeastern Asia). For instance, the American Ornithologists' Union places larks just after the crows, shrikes, and vireos. At a finer level of detail, some now place the larks at the beginning of a superfamily Sylvioidea with the swallows, various "Old World warbler" and "babbler" groups, and others. [7] [8] Molecular phylogenetic studies have shown that within the Sylvioidea the larks form a sister clade to the family Panuridae which contains a single species, the bearded reedling (Panurus biarmicus). [9] The phylogeny of larks (Alaudidae) was reviewed in 2013, leading to the recognition of the arrangement below. [10] [11]

Extant genera

The family Alaudidae contains 98 extant species which are divided into 21 genera: [11] For more detail, see list of lark species.

ImageGenusLiving Species
Greater Hoopoe Lark - Kutch, crop.jpg Alaemon Keyserling & Blasius, 1840
Spike-heeled lark 2018 03 10 13 20 38 3271.jpg Chersomanes Cabanis, 1851
Gray's Lark.jpg Ammomanopsis Bianchi, 1905
  • Gray's lark (Ammomanopsis grayi)
Eastern Long-billed Lark (Certhilauda semitorquata) calling ... (30544868485), crop.jpg Certhilauda Swainson, 1827
Dusky Lark (Pinarocorys nigricans) (6029254985).jpg Pinarocorys Shelley, 1902
Alouette de Clot Bey Ramphocoris clotbey.jpg Ramphocoris Bonaparte, 1850
  • thick-billed lark (Ramphocoris clotbey)
Rufous-tailed Lark (Ammomanes phoenicurus) in Kawal WS, AP W IMG 2004.jpg Ammomanes Cabanis, 1851
Fisher's Sparrow-Lark - Tanzania 2008-03-01 0063 (16759772588).jpg Eremopterix Kaup, 1836
Pink-breasted Lark - KenyaIMG 6762 (16740113947).jpg Calendulauda Blyth, 1855
Heteromirafra ruddi, Wakkerstroom, Birding Weto, a.jpg Heteromirafra Grant, 1913
Flappet Lark, Sakania, DR Congo (16025285505), crop.jpg Mirafra Horsfield, 1821
Lullula arborea (Jan Svetlik).jpg Lullula Kaup, 1829
Pseudalaemon fremantlii -East Africa-8.jpg Spizocorys Sundevall, 1872
Alauda arvensis 2.jpg Alauda Linnaeus, 1758
Syke's Lark Galerida deva by Dr. Raju Kasambe DSCN5681 (2).jpg Galerida Linnaeus, 1758
Shore Lark.jpg Eremophila F. Boie, 1828
Red-capped lark, Calandrella cinerea, at Mapungubwe National Park, Limpopo, South Africa (23514690044).jpg Calandrella Kaup, 1829
Melanocorypha calandra.jpg Melanocorypha F. Boie, 1828
Dupont's Lark, Morocco 1 (crop) (cropped).jpg Chersophilus Sharpe, 1890
  • Dupont's lark (Chersophilus duponti)
Dunn's Lark.jpg Eremalauda WL Sclater, 1926
  • Dunn's lark (Eremalauda dunni)
Terrera marismena (Calandrella rufescens) (8649673388) (2) (cropped).jpg Alaudala Horsfield & Moore, 1858

Extinct genera


A chestnut-backed sparrow-lark Chestnut-backed sparrow-lark (Eremopterix leucotis melanocephalus) male.jpg
A chestnut-backed sparrow-lark

Larks, which are part of the family Alaudidae, are small- to medium-sized birds, 12 to 24 cm (4.7 to 9.4 in) in length and 15 to 75 g (0.5 to 2.6 oz) in mass. [12]

Like many ground birds, most lark species have long hind claws, which are thought to provide stability while standing. Most have streaked brown plumage, some boldly marked with black or white. Their dull appearance camouflages them on the ground, especially when on the nest. They feed on insects and seeds; though adults of most species eat seeds primarily, all species feed their young insects for at least the first week after hatching. Many species dig with their bills to uncover food. Some larks have heavy bills (reaching an extreme in the thick-billed lark) for cracking seeds open, while others have long, down-curved bills, which are especially suitable for digging. [12]

Larks are the only passerines that lose all their feathers in their first moult (in all species whose first moult is known). This may result from the poor quality of the chicks' feathers, which in turn may result from the benefits to the parents of switching the young to a lower-quality diet (seeds), which requires less work from the parents. [12]

In many respects, including long tertial feathers, larks resemble other ground birds such as pipits. However, in larks the tarsus (the lowest leg bone, connected to the toes) has only one set of scales on the rear surface, which is rounded. Pipits and all other songbirds have two plates of scales on the rear surface, which meet at a protruding rear edge. [3]

Calls and song

Larks have more elaborate calls than most birds, and often extravagant songs given in display flight. [12] These melodious sounds (to human ears), combined with a willingness to expand into anthropogenic habitats — as long as these are not too intensively managed — have ensured larks a prominent place in literature and music, especially the Eurasian skylark in northern Europe and the crested lark and calandra lark in southern Europe.



Male larks use song flights to defend their breeding territory and attract a mate. Most species build nests on the ground, usually cups of dead grass, but in some species the nests are more complicated and partly domed. A few desert species nest very low in bushes, perhaps so circulating air can cool the nest. [12] Larks' eggs are usually speckled. The size of the clutch is very variable and ranges from the single egg laid by Sclater's lark up to 6-8 eggs laid by the calandra lark and the black lark. [13] Larks incubate for 11 to 16 days. [12]

In culture

Larks as food

Larks, commonly consumed with bones intact, have historically been considered wholesome, delicate, and light game. They can be used in a number of dishes; for example, they can be stewed, broiled, or used as filling in a meat pie. Lark's tongues were particularly highly valued. In modern times, shrinking habitats made lark meat rare and hard to come by, though it can still be found in restaurants in Italy and elsewhere in southern Europe. [14]


The lark in mythology and literature stands for daybreak, as in Chaucer's "The Knight's Tale", "the bisy larke, messager of day" (I.1487; Benson 1988), and Shakespeare's Sonnet 29, "the lark at break of day arising / From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate" (11–12). The lark is also (often simultaneously) associated with "lovers and lovers' observance" (as in Bernart de Ventadorn's Can vei la lauzeta mover) and with "church services" (Sylvester and Roberts 2000), and often those the meanings of daybreak and religious reference are combined (in Blake's Visions of the Daughters of Albion , into a "spiritual daybreak" (Baine and Baine 1986)) to signify "passage from Earth to Heaven and from Heaven to Earth" (Stevens 2001). In Renaissance painters such as Domenico Ghirlandaio the lark symbolizes Christ, in reference to John 16:16 (Cadogan 2000).


Traditionally larks are kept as pets in China. In Beijing, larks are taught to mimic the voice of other songbirds and animals. It is an old-fashioned habit of the Beijingers to teach their larks 13 kinds of sounds in a strict order (called "the 13 songs of a lark", Chinese: 百灵十三套). The larks that can sing the full 13 sounds in the correct order are highly valued, while any disruption in the songs will decrease its value significantly (Jin 2005).

See also

Related Research Articles

Passerine Any bird of the order Passeriformes. Sometimes known as perching birds.

A passerine is any bird of the order Passeriformes, which includes more than half of all bird species. Sometimes known as perching birds or songbirds, passerines are distinguished from other orders of birds by the arrangement of their toes, which facilitates perching, amongst other features specific to their evolutionary history in Australaves.

Old World flycatcher Family of birds

The Old World flycatchers are a large family, the Muscicapidae, of small passerine birds mostly restricted to the Old World. These are mainly small arboreal insectivores, many of which, as the name implies, take their prey on the wing. The family includes 324 species and is divided into 51 genera.

Old World babbler family of birds

The Old World babblers or Timaliidae are a family of mostly Old World passerine birds. They are rather diverse in size and coloration, but are characterised by soft fluffy plumage. These are birds of tropical areas, with the greatest variety in Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent. The timaliids are one of two unrelated groups of birds known as babblers, the other being the Australasian babblers of the family Pomatostomidae.

Parrotbill group of peculiar birds native to East and Southeast Asia

The parrotbills are a group of peculiar birds native to East and Southeast Asia, though feral populations exist elsewhere. They are generally small, long-tailed birds which inhabit reedbeds and similar habitat. They feed mainly on seeds, e.g. of grasses, to which their bill, as the name implies, is well-adapted. Living in tropical to southern temperate climates, they are usually non-migratory.

Bearded reedling species of bird

The bearded reedling is a small, sexually dimorphic reed-bed passerine bird. It is frequently known as the bearded tit, due to some similarities to the long-tailed tit, or the bearded parrotbill. It is the only species in the family Panuridae.

Cisticolidae family of birds

The family Cisticolidae is a group of about 160 warblers, small passerine birds found mainly in warmer southern regions of the Old World. They were formerly included within the Old World warbler family Sylviidae.

<i>Cettia</i> genus of birds

Cettia is a genus of small insectivorous songbirds ("warblers") which make up the core of the newly recognized family Cettiidae. They were formerly placed in the Sylviidae, which at that time was a wastebin taxon for the warbler-like Sylvioidea. The range of this genus extends from Europe to southeast Asia.

Tailorbird genus of birds

Tailorbirds are small birds, most belonging to the genus Orthotomus. While they were often placed in the Old World warbler family Sylviidae, recent research suggests they more likely belong in the Cisticolidae and they are treated as such in Del Hoyo et al. One species, the mountain tailorbird, is actually closer to an old world warbler genus Cettia.

Horsfields bush lark species of bird

Horsfield's bush lark is a species of lark which inhabits grassland throughout most of Australia and much of Southeast Asia.

Passerida clade of songbirds

Passerida is, under the Sibley-Ahlquist taxonomy, one of two parvorders contained within the suborder Passeri. While more recent research suggests that its sister parvorder, Corvida, is not a monophyletic grouping, the Passerida as a distinct clade are widely accepted.

Stenostiridae family of birds

Stenostiridae, or the fairy flycatchers, are a family of small passerine birds proposed as a result of recent discoveries in molecular systematics. They are also referred to as stenostirid warblers.

Locustellidae family of birds

Locustellidae is a newly recognized family of small insectivorous songbirds ("warblers"), formerly placed in the Old World warbler "wastebin" family. It contains the grass warblers, grassbirds, and the Bradypterus "bush warblers". These birds occur mainly in Eurasia, Africa, and the Australian region. The family name is sometimes given as Megaluridae, but Locustellidae has priority.

<i>Mirafra</i> genus of birds

Mirafra is a genus of lark in the family Alaudidae. Some Mirafra species are called "larks", while others are called "bush larks". They are found from Africa through South Asia to Australia.

Asian short-toed lark species of bird

The Asian short-toed lark is a lark in the family Alaudidae. The species was first described by Robert Swinhoe in 1871. It is found from south-central to eastern Asia.

Sylvioidea superfamily of songbirds

Sylvioidea is a superfamily of passerine birds, one of at least three major clades within the Passerida along with the Muscicapoidea and Passeroidea. It contains about 1300 species including the Old World warblers, Old World babblers, swallows, larks and bulbuls. Members of the clade are found worldwide, but fewer species are present in the Americas.

<i>Horornis</i> genus of birds

Horornis is a genus of small insectivorous songbirds ("warblers") which make up the core of the newly recognized family Cettiidae. They were formerly placed in the Sylviidae, which at that time was a wastebin taxon for the warbler-like Sylvioidea. The range of this genus occurs from southeast Asia throughout the western Pacific. The most recently described species is the Bougainville bush warbler from Bougainville Island.

<i>Phyllergates</i> genus of birds

The species of tailorbirds listed below are small birds of the genus Phyllergates . They were previously placed in the Old World warbler family Sylviidae. However, recent research suggests they more likely belong in the Cettiidae.

Pellorneidae family of birds

The jungle babblers, Pellorneidae, are mostly Old World passerine birds belonging to the superfamily Sylvioidea. They are quite diverse in size and coloration, and usually characterised by soft, fluffy plumage and a tail on average the length of their body, or longer. These birds are found in tropical zones, with the greatest biodiversity in Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

<i>Alaudala</i> genus of birds

Alaudala is a genus of lark in the family Alaudidae. The genus name is a diminutive of Alauda.

Mongolian short-toed lark species of bird

The Mongolian short-toed lark or Sykes's short-toed lark is a species of lark in the family Alaudidae. It breeds in China and Mongolia and winters in southern Asia.


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Further reading