Larks are 75 species of small, terrestrial songbirds that make up the family Alaudidae. Larks breed on all of the continents except Antarctica. Their usual habitats are all open areas and typically include prairies, savannas, alpine and arctic tundras, heathlands, and some types of agricultural fields.
Larks have long, pointed wings, a notched tail, and rather long legs and toes, with the hind, backward-pointing toe having an unusually long claw. The beak is rather small and pointed. The colors of larks are rather cryptic, usually involving brownish hues, often with streaky patterns, and sometimes with black and yellow markings. The sexes are similar in size and coloration.
Larks feed on a variety of insects and other invertebrates and on plant seeds. Many species migrate to warmer climates during their non-breeding season, and they often occur in flocks at that time.
Male larks are pleasing, melodious singers, often performing that activity while flying or hovering in the air. Larks lay two to six eggs in a cup-shaped nest woven of grass fibers and located on the ground, usually beside a sheltering, grassy tussock or rock. The female incubates the eggs, and her mate feeds her on the nest. Both parents share in the rearing of their young.
The only species native to North America is the horned lark (Eremophila alpestris), which breeds in open habitats over much of the continent and south into Central America. This species winters in the southern parts of its breeding range.
In addition, a small population of skylarks (Alauda arvensis), a species native to Eurasia and Africa, has been introduced to southern Vancouver Island. This bird was introduced by European immigrants, who longed for the beautiful, warbling, song-flights of skylarks, so familiar in their memories of the European countryside. Unlike other birds introduced for this sort of reason, such as the starling and house sparrow, the skylark did not become an invasive pest.
Many other species of larks occur in Eurasia, Australasia, and especially Africa, where 80% of the species occur. The largest genus is that of the bush larks ( Mirafra spp.), with 23 species. The singing bush lark ( M. javanica) is very widespread, occurring in savannas and grasslands from East Africa, across Asia, through Southeast Asia, to Australia. The largest species is the 9 in (23 cm) hoopoe lark ( Alaemon alaudipes), which occurs in deserts of North Africa and Central Asia.
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