Photo: G. Lasley/Vireo

Lark Bunting

Calamospiza melanocorys

On the western plains in early summer the male Lark Bunting is impossible to overlook, as it flutters up from the grass to deliver its varied flight song. In winter, when males and female alike are patterned in streaky brown, the species is more subtle. Winter flocks of Lark Buntings occur in dry open fields, where they suggest chunky, big-billed sparrows. When they fly, however, in compact flocks sweeping low over the ground, some of them will flash patches of white or buff in the wings.
Conservation status Was extremely common at one time; has lost ground with conversion of prairies to farmland. Still common, but surveys suggest declines in recent decades. Numbers vary widely from year to year in many areas, making it difficult to monitor populations.
Family New World Sparrows
Habitat Plains, prairies. Breeds mostly on native shortgrass prairie; also on sagebrush plains with understory of grass and weeds. During migration and winter, found in many kinds of open country, including prairies, agricultural fields, desert grassland, weedy vacant lots.
On the western plains in early summer the male Lark Bunting is impossible to overlook, as it flutters up from the grass to deliver its varied flight song. In winter, when males and female alike are patterned in streaky brown, the species is more subtle. Winter flocks of Lark Buntings occur in dry open fields, where they suggest chunky, big-billed sparrows. When they fly, however, in compact flocks sweeping low over the ground, some of them will flash patches of white or buff in the wings.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male, breeding
  • adult male, nonbreeding
  • immature male (1st fall), molting
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly while running and walking on the ground, picking up items from soil or from plant stems. After flushing insects from ground, will pursue them in short flights. During migration and winter, almost always feeds in flocks, sometimes loosely associated with other seed-eating birds.


Eggs

4-5, sometimes 3-7. Pale blue to greenish blue, usually unmarked, sometimes dotted with reddish brown. Incubation is mostly by female (male may help at times), 11-12 days. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young probably leave the nest about 9 days after hatching. 1 brood per year, sometimes 2.


Young

Both parents feed the nestlings. Young probably leave the nest about 9 days after hatching. 1 brood per year, sometimes 2.

Diet

Mostly insects and seeds. Summer diet is predominantly insects, especially grasshoppers, also beetles, true bugs, bees, ants, and many others. Also eats many seeds, especially in winter, mainly those of weeds and grasses, also some waste grain.


Nesting

Arrives on breeding grounds in flocks, then flocks break up and males set up territories. In courtship, male performs a flight song display: flies up to 20-30' above ground, then floats or flutters back to ground on outstretched wings, while singing. One male may have more than one mate. Nest site is on ground in grassy area, usually sheltered or protected by overhanging grass or weeds. Often sunken in small depression in soil, so that rim of nest is level with ground or only slightly above it. Nest is an open cup made of grass, weeds, rootlets, lined with fine grass, plant down, animal hair.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

Fall migration begins very early, with some appearing south of the breeding range by late July; some linger in wintering areas into May. Migrates in flocks.

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Migration

Fall migration begins very early, with some appearing south of the breeding range by late July; some linger in wintering areas into May. Migrates in flocks.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A canary-like song with loud bubbling sequences and trills interspersed with harsher notes. Call is a 2-note whistle.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

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