Dear thoughts are in my mind
And my soul soars enchanted,
As I hear the sweet lark sing
In the clear air of the day.
The Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) is the only lark species native to North America. Meadowlarks, which might come to mind, are actually related to blackbirds. The Horned Lark is widely distributed through desert and prairie regions and agricultural lands. In southern Ontario, Horned Larks are most abundant in the southwestern corner of the province, but breed across the region south of the Canadian Shield. I’ve come to think of Horned Larks as winter birds, even though they are here year round, because that’s the season I am most likely to see one.
I recently spotted a flock of birds foraging for grain near the side of the road. It’s common to see winter flocks of Snow Buntings, and at first I thought that’s what these birds were. However, as I drew nearer, I realized they were Horned Larks. I grabbed my camera and shot the photo, above, through the car windshield.
Horned Larks are grassland birds and probably were rare in Ontario until European settlers cleared the land of forests and began farming, allowing the larks to expand the eastern edge of their range into new territory. The Horned Lark is an early nester, ofter beginning a clutch of eggs in April. By mid-summer, Horned Larks become inconspicuous, and are easily missed by the casual observer. Nests are constructed on the ground in sparcely vegetated pasture or even ploughed fields. Babies leave the nest before they can fly, at nine to twelve days of age. They are fed by the parents for a few more days and fly 4 days after leaving the nest.
During breeding season, the male performs an impressive display. He silently flys high into the sky and then begins singing as he circles and hovers several hundred feet above the ground before dropping into a steep dive back to earth. Perhaps it was this behavior that inspired the Irish folk song, The Lark in the Clear Air.