Alauda arvensisEurasian skylark(Also: sky lark)

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Geographic Range

Skylarks are native to North Africa, Asia, and Europe. British populations do not migrate, but populations from eastern Asia migrate to southeastern China and populations in the eastern Palearctic migrate to the northern Mediterranean. Skylarks have been introduced to Australia, Canada, Hawaii, and New Zealand. (Grzimek, 2003; Grzimek, 2003)

Habitat

Skylarks live in areas of open country. They are generally found living in extensive croplands, marshes, or meadows. They prefer to live among cereal grasses or low green herbage. Skylarks avoid wooded areas, even areas with isolated trees seem to be unsuitable. Skylarks feed, nest, and do most other activities on the ground. (Cramp, 1988; Jonsson, 1992)

  • Range elevation
    1000 (high) m
    3280.84 (high) ft

Physical Description

The sexes are alike in the plumage, but males are slightly larger. Skylarks usually range in size from 18-19 cm. They have a wing-span of 30-36 cm. Females of the species can weight 17-47 g, while males can weigh 27-55 g. Their bills are short but strong. Skylarks generally have streaked black-brown plumage, some have a yellow or grey overall tone. Their underside is a buff-white. Skylarks have brown-streaked crown feathers that can be raised to a small crest. (Cramp, 1988; Grzimek, 2003; Jonsson, 1992)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • Range mass
    17 to 55 g
    0.60 to 1.94 oz
  • Range length
    18 to 19 cm
    7.09 to 7.48 in
  • Range wingspan
    30 to 36 cm
    11.81 to 14.17 in
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.722 W
    AnAge

Reproduction

Male skylarks sing throughout the day, starting in the dawn hours. The song is mostly heard February through July, but a more faint song can be heard throughout the rest of the year. They usually begin their song after flying into the air 10-20 m. They then progress to flying 50-100 m up, then slowly spiral down with periods of hovering in the air. This can proceed for 10-15 minutes. The song itself usually consists of singing trills and cadenzas along with babbling and mimicry. It is used as a display to attract females. (Bruun, et al., 1992; Cramp, 1988; Jonsson, 1992)

Skylarks pair early in the year between April and July. Courting may include high-speed chases in the air and their renowned singing behaviors. The birds are monogamous but only about half of mating pairs remain together after a year. (Bannerman, 1953; Cramp, 1988)

Skylark nests are often found near short vegetation and consist of a shallow depression in the ground. The depression is lined with stems and leaves, and the inner part is lined with finer materials like hair. The nest is built primarily by the female, although the male may help to form the depression in the ground. Skylarks lay 3-4, sometimes 5, eggs. (Cramp, 1988; Grzimek, 2003; Bannerman, 1953; Cramp, 1988; Grzimek, 2003)

  • Breeding interval
    Skylarks breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Skylarks breed from April to July.
  • Range eggs per season
    3 to 5
  • Average eggs per season
    3
    AnAge
  • Range time to hatching
    11 to 15 days
  • Average time to hatching
    11 days
  • Range fledging age
    8 to 10 days
  • Average time to independence
    25 days

Females build the nest with little help from males. Once the young are hatched both parents care for them. Adults gather food for the young by making a pile of insects on the ground. When enough insects are collected, they are carried away to young and the soft parts are fed to them. Females incubate eggs for a period of 11-14 days. Both males and females protect the nest. Hatchlings leave the nest between 8-10 days after they hatch. Skylarks often have two, and sometimes three, broods each season. (Cramp, 1988; Grzimek, 2003)

  • Parental Investment
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-independence
    • protecting
      • male
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

The annual mortality rate for adult skylarks was measured as 33.5% in England. One skylark was documented as living to 8 years 5 months old. (Cramp, 1988)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    10.2 (high) years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    10.1 years
    AnAge

Behavior

Skylarks forage on the ground. They walk around, and can be found pecking at plant stalks and seed heads. Territorial aggression usually increases from February and peaks in April, but by July aggression is mostly absent. The aggression is displayed on the ground in the form of ruffled feathers, a raised crown, and threatening acts of aggression like fluttering off the ground with wings half-spread. Aggressive interactions over territory can also be aerial. This consists of a series of upward glides with intermitted fluttering towards an invader. (Cramp, 1988)

Skylarks often migrate in flocks and large flocks of skylarks can be found during severe weather. Flocks often do not consist of more than 10 individuals and if they do, they often break apart into smaller flocks. (Bruun, et al., 1992; Cramp, 1988)

  • Average territory size
    15 m^2

Home Range

There is no available information on home range size in skylarks.

Communication and Perception

Male skylarks are more vocal than females. Skylarks are known for the complex songs employed by males. Song flight usually begins with a silent ascent. When they reach an altitude of 50-100 m they begin to hover and circle over territory while continuing to sing. They then begin a spiral descent and cease to sing once 10-20 m are reached. The song itself consists of loud, trli or dji whistles in varying pitch patterns. Frequent repetition occurs as well as trills and tremolos with varying speed, pitch, length, and timbre. Skylarks may also sing on the ground with much the same singing pattern but often quieter, shorter, and consisting of more warbling and pauses. (Bannerman, 1953; Bruun, et al., 1992; Cramp, 1988)

Skylarks also communicate through a dry chirrup, prriee and prreet call. (Bruun, et al., 1992)

Food Habits

Skylarks are omnivores that eat seeds and insects. Skylarks are known to eat weed seeds and waste grain. They also eat invertebrates such as beetles, caterpillars, spiders, millipedes, earthworms, and slugs. They forage on the ground, searching for food visually. (Bruun, et al., 1992; Cramp, 1988; Grzimek, 2003)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • mollusks
  • terrestrial worms
  • Plant Foods
  • seeds, grains, and nuts

Predation

Small falcons (Falco) prey on adult skylarks, but these predators are not common. Nestlings and eggs are taken by ground-dwelling predators, such as foxes (Vulpes) and snakes (Serpentes). Humans used to prey upon these birds, capturing them in clap-nets and selling them. This greatly reduced their numbers, but the practice has since been prohibited in England. Skylarks are cryptically colored, helping to camouflage them as they search for prey on the ground. (Bannerman, 1953; Cramp, 1988)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic
  • Known Predators
    • small falcons (Falco)
    • foxes (Vulpes)
    • snakes (Serpentes)

Ecosystem Roles

Skylarks eat pests such as caterpillars and weed seeds that are detrimental to crops. (Bannerman, 1953)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Skylarks consume the seeds of weeds and detrimental plants as well as detrimental insects. This is advantageous to farmers. (Bannerman, 1953)

  • Positive Impacts
  • controls pest population

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Skylarks are known to ravage spring cabbage plants and consume corn and other crops cultivated by humans. The advantage of skylarks consuming pests and weed seeds outweighs the disadvantage of their taste for certain crops. (Bannerman, 1953)

  • Negative Impacts
  • crop pest

Conservation Status

The population size of skylarks introduced in North America is declining due to development in their habitats. Skylarks in Europe, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii are stable. In some areas agricultural practices, and loss of open grasslands and farmlands does threaten skylark populations. (Grzimek, 2003)

Contributors

Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.

David Hyman (author), Kalamazoo College, Ann Fraser (editor, instructor), Kalamazoo College.

Glossary

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

Nearctic

living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map

Pacific Ocean

body of water between the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), Australia, Asia, and the western hemisphere. This is the world's largest ocean, covering about 28% of the world's surface.

World Map

Palearctic

living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

agricultural

living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

cooperative breeder

helpers provide assistance in raising young that are not their own

cryptic

having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

diurnal
  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
endothermic

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

introduced

referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

marsh

marshes are wetland areas often dominated by grasses and reeds.

migratory

makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds

monogamous

Having one mate at a time.

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

temperate

that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.

savanna

A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

Bannerman, D. 1953. Skylark. Pp. 33-40 in The Birds of the British Isles, Vol. 11. Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd.

Bruun, B., H. Delin, L. Svensson. 1992. Birds of Britain and Europe. London: Hamlyn.

Cramp, S. 1988. Alauda arvensis. Pp. 188-205 in S Cramp, ed. Handbook of the birds of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa:the birds of the Western Palearctic, Vol. V, 1 Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Grzimek, B. 2003. Family: Larks. Pp. 353-354 in M Hutchins, ed. Grzimek's Encyclopedia of Animals, Vol. 2, 2nd Edition. Detroit: Gale.

Harrison, C. 1982. An Atlas of the Birds of the Western Palaearctic. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Jonsson, L. 1992. Birds of Europe with North America and the Middle East. London: A & C Black.