Birds - Horned Lark
( Originally Published 1904 )
(Otocoris alpestris) Lark family
Called also: SHORE LARK
Length-7.5 to 8 inches. About one-fifth smaller than the robin.
Male—Upper parts dull brown, streaked with lighter on edges and tinged with pink or vinaceous ; darkest on back of head, neck, shoulders, and nearest the tail. A few erectile feathers on either side of the head form slight tufts or horns that are wanting in female. A black mark from the base of the bill passes below the eye and ends in a horn-shaped curve on cheeks, which are yellow. Throat clear yellow. Breast has crescent-shaped black patch. Underneath soiled white, with dusky spots on lower breast. Tail black, the outer feathers margined with white, noticed in, flight.
Female—Has yellow eye-stripe; less prominent markings, especially on head, and is a trifle smaller.
Range—Northeastern parts of North America, and in winter from Ohio and eastern United States as far south as North Carolina.
Migrations—October and November. March. Winter resident.
Far away to the north in Greenland and Labrador this true lark, the most beautiful of its genus, makes its summer home. There it is a conspicuously handsome bird with its pinkish-gray and chocolate feathers, that have greatly faded into dull browns when we see them in the late autumn. In the far north only does it sing, and, according to Audubon, the charming song is flung to the breeze while the bird soars like a skylark. In the United States we hear only its call-note.
Great flocks come down the Atlantic coast in October and November, and separate into smaller bands that take up their residence in sandy stretches and open tracts near the sea or wherever the food supply looks promising, and there the larks stay until all the seeds, buds of bushes, berries, larvae, and insects in their chosen territory are exhausted. They are ever conspicuously ground birds, walkers, and when disturbed at their dinner, prefer to squat on the earth rather than expose themselves by flight. Sometimes they run nimbly over the frozen ground to escape an intruder, but flying they reserve as a last resort. When the visitor has passed they quickly return to their dinner. If they were content to eat less ravenously and remain slender, fewer victims might be slaughtered annually to tickle the palates of the epicure. It is a mystery what they find to fatten upon when snow covers the frozen ground. Even in the severe midwinter storms they will not seek the protection of the woods, but always prefer sandy dunes with their scrubby undergrowth or open meadow lands. Occasionally a small flock wanders toward the farms to pick up seeds that are blown from the hayricks or scattered about the barn-yard by overfed domestic fowls.
The Prairie Horned Lark (Otocoris alpestris praticola) is similar to the preceding, but a trifle smaller and paler, with a white instead of a yellow streak above the eye, the throat yellowish or entirely white instead of sulphur-yellow, and other minor differences. It has a far more southerly range, confined to north-ern portions of the United States from the Mississippi eastward. Once a distinctly prairie bird, it now roams wherever large stretches of open country that suit its purposes are cleared in the East, and remains resident. This species also sings in midair on the wing, but its song is a crude, half-inarticulate affair, barely audible from a height of two hundred feet.