Lark, a group of more than 100 species of birds, all but one of which are native to the Old World, chiefly to Africa. The other species, with a number of subspecies, is native to North America. The name is often applied to similar but unrelated birds, such as the American meadowlark (related to the blackbirds) and the titlark (another name for the pipit).

Most larks are found in prairies, deserts, fields, and other open places, where they nest on the ground. Some, such as the wood lark, are woodland birds that nest in trees. Larks generally grow about seven inches (18 cm) long. The birds are usually brownish, streaked with black above, and lighter in color below. Many species are crested. On the hind toe is a long, straight claw that is often longer than the toe itself. Larks feed on seeds, insects, and worms.

The Skylark

is noted for its outpouring of warbling song as it flies up almost vertically, high in the sky. One of the most popular birds, the skylark is celebrated in Percy Bysshe Shelley's poem “Ode to a Skylark” and in Jules Breton's painting The Song of the Lark. (For a reproduction of this painting,

The skylarkThe skylark is noted for warbling song.

The skylark grows about seven and one-half inches (19 cm) long, and is brown above and white below, with a pinkish-tan breast specked with brown. The bird nests in Europe and winters in Asia and Africa. It builds its nest, which it makes of grasses and other soft materials, on the ground. The female lays four or five brown-blotched eggs.

Several efforts have been made to introduce the skylark into North America, but it has become established only on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

The Horned Lark

is native to North America, where its subspecies range from central Canada to Mexico. Its singing behavior resembles that of the skylark. During courtship the male sings as it flies upward and then dives from a high altitude to the ground.

The horned lark grows seven to eight inches (18 to 20 cm) long. It is brown above and whitish below, with a yellow chin and throat, a white or yellow face, a black band across its upper breast, and a down-curving black patch below each eye. The “horns” are two small tufts of feathers that grow on each side of the crown. The subspecies have slight variations in color and size, and have different dwelling places.

When Is a “Lark” Not a Lark?

Larks are small songbirds that live mostly in Asia and Europe. Only one species, the horned lark, lives in North America. Horned larks share much of their habitat with other birds called meadowlarks. But meadowlarks, despite their name, are not really larks. They do, however, live in meadows.

There are two kinds of meadowlarks—the eastern and the western. They look alike, but their songs sound different. The song of the eastern meadowlark is a clear whistle of “Tee-you-tee-yerr!” The song of the western meadowlark has 7 to 10 notes. It sounds more like a lovely flute. Both songs are among the first to be heard each spring.

Unlike many other songbirds, the meadowlark builds its nest on the ground. The female lays three to seven eggs at a time. She covers the eggs with grass so that enemies will not come and steal them.

Larks belong to the lark family, Alaudidae. The wood lark is Lullula arborea; skylark, Alauda arvensis; horned, Eremophila alpestris.