The Skylark bird (Alauda arvensis), also known as the Eurasian Skylark, is a small passerine bird species that breeds across most of Europe and Asia and in the mountains of north Africa. It is mainly resident in the west of its range, however, eastern populations are more migratory, moving further south in winter. Even in the milder west of its range, many birds move to lowlands and the coast in winter.
The skylark belongs to the genus ‘Alauda‘, which consists of four species, and this genus is a member of the family ‘Alaudidae’ within the order ‘Passeriformes‘. There are several subspecies of the skylark, 11 in total, including A. a. arvensis, A. a. sierrae, and A. a. japonica, each adapted to different regions and environments.
Skylark Bird Characteristics
The Skylark is 16 to 18 centimetres long. It is a dull-looking species on the ground, being mainly brown above and paler below. The Skylark has a short blunt crest on the head, which can be raised and lowered.
In flight, the Skylark bird shows a short tail and short broad wings. The tail and the rear edge of the wings are edged with white, which are visible when the bird is flying away, however, not if it is heading towards the observer. The Skylark has sturdy legs and spends a much time on the ground foraging for seeds, supplemented with insects in the breeding season.
The Skylark is a bird of open farmland and heath, known throughout its range for the song of the male, which is delivered in hovering flight from heights of 50 to 100 metres. The song generally lasts 2 to 3 minutes, however, it tends to last longer later in the season. The male Skylark has broader wings than the female. This adaptation for more efficient hovering flight may have evolved owing to the females preference for males that hover and sing for longer periods.
The Skylark makes a grass nest on the ground, hidden amongst vegetation. Generally the nests are very difficult to find. Around 3 to 6 eggs are laid in June. A second or third brood may be started later in the year. The eggs are yellow/white with brownish/purple spots mainly at the large end.
Skylarks have an omnivorous diet, consisting mainly of insects and plant materials like seeds and young leaves. They walk over the ground, searching for food on the soil surface. In the summer, before the abundant availability of food that comes with fall, when leaves and seeds are harder to come by on the ground, insects form a crucial part of their diet.
When cereal crops were planted in spring they relied less upon insects for their diet, but now in some areas, particularly the UK, some cereal crops are commonly planted in Autumn, grown through winter and harvested early in the summer.
The winter grown fields are much too dense in summer for the Skylark to be able to walk and run between the wheat stems to find its food.
Habitat and Location of the Skylark Bird
The skylark is found widely across the UK, Europe and the Palearctic region, with introduced populations in Australia, New Zealand, and the Hawaiian Islands. In it’s native Eurasian lands, it is a somewhat migratory species, though more so with populations in the East of the range, where winters can be particularly cold. These populations will head further south for winter, into more temperate, lowland areas.
These birds prefer open farmland and heath as their habitat, and most of the population live in the west of their range.
Skylark Bird Status & Conservation
Skylark bird numbers have declined over the last 30 years, as determined by the Common Bird Census started in the early 1960’s by The British Trust for Ornithology. There are now only 10% of the numbers that were present 30 years ago. The RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) have shown that this massive decline is mainly due to changes in farming practices and only partly due to pesticides.
Farmers are now encouraged and paid to maintain biodiversity and they can get a few points toward DEFRA’s (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) Entry Level Stewardship financial rewards for improving the habitat for Skylarks.
Despite declining populations in some areas, as of the latest assessment in 2018 the Skylark is listed as a species of ‘Least Concern’ by the IUCN.
5 Fun Skylark Facts for Kids
- Male skylarks can sing while they are flying, and their song can last for up to 20 minutes or more!
- When skylarks sing, they hover in the air at heights of 50 to 100 meters, appearing as just a dot in the sky from the ground.
- Skylark parents can have several broods in a single season, laying 3 to 5 eggs each time.
- Skylark chicks develop really fast and can leave the nest after eight to ten days! This is well before they can fly, and they continue to be fed by the parents until they can fledge at 18 to 20 days of age.
- Skylarks are found in many parts of the world, including Europe, Asia, and even as far as Australia and Hawaii due to introduction by humans.
Check out more animals that start with S