Horned Lark - Eremophila alpestris
Small, ground-dwelling oscine with "horns" - occipital feather tufts - which can be raised or lowered but are usually erect in males. Males slightly larger and darker than females. Basic plumage: nape, back, rump, and dorsal surfaces of the rectrices and remiges are shades of brown streaked with dusky brown to black. Breast and abdomen cinnamon to white. Head strikingly marked with black lores, cheek patches, the occipital feather tufts, and breast patch. Geographic variation is most obvious in body size and coloration, especially of the eyebrow stripe, throat, and ear coverts which vary from white to yellow. The variation in back color is strongly correlated with the color of the local soil. During winter, often occurs in mixed flocks with other species such as longspurs, Snow Buntings, and pipits (Beason 1995).
For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.
Western Hemisphere Range
eBird Occurrence Map
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Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations:
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(direct evidence "B")
(indirect evidence "b")
No evidence of Breeding
(regular observations "W")
(at least one obs. "w")
(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)
In the Bozeman area, normal migration periods are March 5 to April 25 and September 25 to November 1.
Open, generally barren country; avoids forests. Prefers bare ground to grasses taller than a few cm (Beason 1995).
Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
- Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
How Associations Were Made
We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for
vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
- Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
- Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
- Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
- Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.
In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.
However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if
point observations were associated with that system.
Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.
The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.
If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.
Suggested Uses and Limitations
Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.
These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: http://mtnhp.org/requests/default.asp
) or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.
Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.
Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.
Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).
Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.
- Adams, R.A. 2003. Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation. Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado. 289 p.
- Dobkin, D. S. 1992. Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34. Missoula, MT.
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- Commonly Associated with these Ecological Systems
Human Land Use
Recently Disturbed or Modified
Shrubland, Steppe and Savanna Systems
Sparse and Barren Systems
Wetland and Riparian Systems
- Occasionally Associated with these Ecological Systems
Forest and Woodland Systems
Human Land Use
In winter, mostly seeds. During the breeding season, adults eat mostly seeds but feed insects to their young. Adults take more insects during the spring and fall than at other times, perhaps to compensate for the energetic demands of breeding and molt (Beason 1995).
May nest on marshy soil but generally prefers, throughout its range, bare ground such as plowed or fall-planted fields. Digs a nest cavity or may use a natural depression. Eggs are ovate; ground color varies from dark pearl gray to pale gray, and are spotted. Clutch size varies 2 to 5 eggs (Beason 1995). Nests in Teton County have been found from April 10 to July 19. Nests with eggs as early as May 10 have been found in the Bozeman area.
- Literature Cited AboveLegend: View Online Publication
- Beason, R.C. 1995. Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris). In The Birds of North America, No. 195. A. Poole and F. Gill, eds. The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia and The America Ornithologists Union, Washington, D. C. 22pp.
- Marks, J.S., P. Hendricks, and D. Casey. 2016. Birds of Montana. Arrington, VA. Buteo Books. 659 pages.
- Additional ReferencesLegend: View Online Publication
Do you know of a citation we're missing?
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- Additional Sources of Information Related to "Birds"