At a Glance
Many sparrows are challenging to identify, but this one is a striking exception, with its bold face pattern and broad, white-edged tail. Lark Sparrows favor areas with bare open ground and scattered bushes, habitats that are more common in the West and Midwest than in the East; they often forage conspicuously out in the open. When going from place to place, they tend to fly higher than most sparrows, giving a sharp callnote as they pass overhead.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
New World Sparrows, Perching Birds
Arroyos and Canyons, Desert and Arid Habitats, Fields, Meadows, and Grasslands, Forests and Woodlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
California, Eastern Canada, Florida, Great Lakes, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
Migrates relatively late in spring and early in fall. Small numbers appear on the Atlantic seaboard in fall, mostly along the immediate coast.
5 1/2-6 1/2" (14-17 cm). Strong face pattern of chestnut and white, dark spot on chest. White edges and corners on long tail. Young bird duller, has recognizable face and tail patterns.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Brown, Gray, Red, White
Long, Rounded, Square-tipped
Songs and Calls
Alternating buzzes and melodious trills.
Buzz, Chirp/Chip, Rattle, Trill, Whistle
Open country with bushes, trees; pastures, farms, roadsides. For nesting, generally favors areas with some open bare ground and some taller plants; included are overgrazed pastures, sandy barrens, hedgerows near fallow fields, brushy dry grasslands, sometimes open pinyon-juniper woods. In migration and winter, found in similar areas, also open weedy fields.
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4-5, sometimes 3-6. Creamy to grayish white, spotted with brown and black. Incubation is by female, 11-12 days.
Both parents feed the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 9-10 days after hatching.
Does almost all its foraging while walking about on the ground in open areas. Typically forages in small, loose flocks.
Mostly seeds and insects. Feeds heavily on seeds, especially in winter, including those of grasses and weeds as well as waste grain. Also eats many insects, especially in summer, including grasshoppers, beetles, caterpillars, and many others. Young are fed mostly insects, also some grass seeds.
In courtship, male may strut about on the ground near the female, with his bill pointed up and his tail spread wide to show off the white corners. Nest: Both sexes may take part in choosing nest site, with male placing twigs at potential site, but female does actual building. Site varies; often on ground near base of tall weed, but may be up in shrubs or low trees, up to 7' above the ground, sometimes higher. Sometimes may nest in crevices in rocky cliffs. Nest is an open cup of grass, weeds, twigs, lined with fine grass, rootlets, animal hair.
In recent decades, has declined or disappeared in some former nesting areas east of the Mississippi River. Still fairly common and widespread in West.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Lark Sparrow. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Lark Sparrow
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.