Horned LarkEremophila alpestris (Linnaeus)
Status Common transient, uncommon in summer and winter. Breeds. In winter it is found mainly along the coastal lowlands, but in summer it frequents the sandy plains and large open fields that it invariably selects for nesting. Spring migrants arrive in March, with heavier concentrations towards the end of the month. Numbers are much greater in the fall movements which start in mid-September and peak towards the end of October when flocks of over 100 are not uncommon. Subsequently, numbers appear to drop off or perhaps merely dissipate into many smaller flocks. During the winter months these small flocks occur in suitable habitats, often in company with Lapland Longspurs. Cape Sable Island is one of their favoured wintering areas.
Description (Eremophila alpestris alpestris) Length: 18-20 cm. Adult male: Throat and line over eye pale yellow; patch on breast and patch from bill to eye and down side of throat black; crown, back of head and rump cinnamon to light brown; back similar but feathers edged with black, giving striped appearance; wing coverts bright cinnamon; lower breast and belly white; sides light brown; "horns" (feather tufts) on top of head black and inconspicuous; tail black, outer feathers margined with white. Adult female: Similar but markings less sharply defined and general appearance duller. Eremophila alpestris praticola: Slightly smaller; back more grayish; throat more whitish; eyebrow stripe usually white.
Breeding Nest: On the ground with little if any attempt at concealment; usually composed of dried grass and always in open fields or sandy plains. Eggs: 4; greenish white, covered with fine specks of light brown over entire surface. A nest on White Rock Mountain, Kings County, on 28 May 1941 contained four newly hatched young; another at Aldershot Military Camp, near Kentville, contained young on 25 June 1942. A young lark barely able to fly was brought to me on 6 May 1955 by Donald Harvey, who caught it on the Grand Pre meadows in Kings County. Another at the same stage of development was seen by Alban Brown at Telford, Pictou County, on 28 July 1921. This bird is one of the first migrants to arrive in the spring and, considering the wide spread in dates of breeding records, it seems probable that a third brood may be raised if the pair is successful with their first and second.
Range Breeds from the shores of the Arctic Ocean south to northern South America. Also occurs widely in the Old World. Winters from southern Canada southward.
Remarks Two subspecies occur here seasonally. The arctic and subarctic E. a. alpestris is a fairly common winter visitor from mid-October to early April in coastal districts but is uncommon to rare in the interior.
Highly gregarious, these little foragers from the north country sometimes travel in flocks of their own kind, but perhaps as often in flocks mingled with Snow Buntings. Commonly called "shore larks," they are usually seen along the coast during early winter; thereafter, as the snows become deeper, they commonly frequent higher ground. It is pleasing, particularly to an agriculturalist, to watch a flock industriously work over a patch of pigweed (Chenopodium) in a garden or orchard as though striving to glean every seed.
Horned Larks are strictly ground dwellers; when one is seen at rest off the ground, its perch is usually a post or fence rail, not a tree. These birds usually fly at very low levels. When disturbed on the ground, they spring into the air with a sharp whistling note and hurry away.
The breeding subspecies, E. a. praticola, is a relative newcomer to Nova Scotia. This more western subspecies has reached Nova Scotia through a natural expansion of its range. The first record of its occurrence was a bird collected on 2 September 1918 on a sandy plain just west of Auburn, Kings County. Since then its range in Nova Scotia has extended broadly and it is now a locally common summer resident from early March to late October, with stragglers in winter. One seen at Auburn on 3 March 1955 in full song and one collected at Grand Pre on 16 October 1928, occurred at normal seasonal extremes. Two were reported by Eva Urban at her feeder in Avonport, Kings County, on 1 February 1960; one was collected on that date and sent to the National Museum in Ottawa.
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