Lark Bunting - Calamospiza melanocorys
With their stark black bodies and white wing bars, Lark Buntings are a conspicuous resident of Montana's prairies. Their behavior also contributes to their visibility; males arrive earlier than females and set up colony-like territories so many individuals may be observed together during the breeding season. The Lark Bunting is one of six species of song birds endemic to the grasslands of North America.
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
The distribution of the species in Montana is primariy restricted east of the Continental Divide.
Summary of Observations Submitted for Montana
Number of Observations:
(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version)
Map Help and Descriptions
(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)
Lark Buntings may arrive in Montana as early May and stay through late August. The earliest nesting record for Montana is May 15th, the latest is August 10th.
Lark Buntings utilize short-grass and mixed-grass communities as well as fallow fields, roadsides, and hayfields.
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.
- Foresman, K.R. 2012. Mammals of Montana. Second edition. Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana. 429 pp.
- Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998. Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates. Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT. 1302 p.
- Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young. 1999. Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32. 72 p.
- Maxell, B.A. 2000. Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species. Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1. Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana. 161 p.
- Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath. 2004. Amphibians and reptiles of Montana. Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.
- Commonly Associated with these Ecological Systems
Human Land Use
Shrubland, Steppe and Savanna Systems
Wetland and Riparian Systems
- Occasionally Associated with these Ecological Systems
Forest and Woodland Systems
Human Land Use
Recently Disturbed or Modified
Sparse and Barren Systems
Wetland and Riparian Systems
The primary food source of this bunting is insects. Seeds are also consumed. While generally a ground gleaner, this species may also be observed hawking for insects.
The breeding behavior of this species is complicated and variable. While most pairs appear monogamous, polygyny has been documented, and polyandry is suspected.
Heavy grazing on short grasslands can negatively affect nesting Lark Buntings by decreasing food, shade, and nest site availability. Loss of habitat and measures to control insects, especially grasshoppers, can result in reduced nesting success. Managing for the species includes maintaining native grasslands, and tailoring grazing regimes to make suitable habitat for the species: implementing moderate grazing in taller grass and reducing or eliminating heavy grazing in arid, short-grass areas.
Threats or Limiting Factors
Destruction of native prairie in the east and northeast portions of their historic range has caused populations to disappear, while destruction of habitat elsewhere threaten existing nesting populations.
- Literature Cited AboveLegend: View Online Publication
- 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?
- American Ornithologists’ Union [AOU]. 1998. Check-list of North American birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists’ Union, Washington, D.C. 829 p.
- Bramblett, Robert G., and Alexander V. Zale. 2002. Montana Prairie Riparian Native Species Report. Montana Cooperative Fishery Research Unit, Montana State University - Bozeman.
- Casey, D. 2000. Partners in Flight Draft Bird Conservation Plan Montana. Version 1.0. 287 pp.
- Chalfoun, A. 2005. Habitat use and quality for non-game shrub-steppe birds, Final performance report
- Confluence Consulting Inc. 2013. Montana Department of Transportation Wetland Mitigation Monitoring Reports (various sites). MDT Helena, MT.
- Dechant, J. A., M. L. Sondreal, D. H. Johnson, L. D. Igl, C. M. Goldade, A. L. Zimmerman, and B. R. Euliss. 2003m. Effects of management practices on grassland birds: Lark Bunting. Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, Jamestown, ND. Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center
- Decker Coal Company., 1978, 1978 Sage Grouse Report. In Decker Coal Company West Pit Permit. Vol. 3. 26.4.304(10-11), 305, 306, and 307. Updated Rules Rewrite, July 1, 1991.
- Dobkin, D. S. 1992. Neotropical migrant landbirds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. U.S.D.A. For. Serv. N. Region Publ. R1-93-34. Missoula, Mont.
- Dobkin, D.S. 1994. Conservation and management of neotropical migrant landbirds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. Univ. Idaho Press, Moscow, Idaho. 220 pp.
- Dood, A.R. 1980. Terry Badlands nongame survey and inventory final report. Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife, and Parks and Bureau of Land Management, Helena, MT. 70 pp.
- Ecological Consulting Service, Helena, MT., 1975, Peabody Coal Company Big Sky Mine: Wildlife environmental indicators monitoring survey. Progress report. Project 58-23-A. June 16, 1975.
- ECON, Inc. (Ecological Consulting Service), Helena, MT., 1975, Colstrip 10 x 20 Area wildlife and wildlife habitat annual monitoring report, 1975. Proj. 71-23-A. December 31, 1975.
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- Gniadek, Steve. 1983. Southwest Glendive Wildlife Baseline Inventory. BLM, Miles City District. 56pp with appendices.
- Hendricks, P. 2000. Roadside bird counts on BLM lands in Petroleum and Fergus Counties, Montana. Montana Natural Heritage Program, Helena, MT. 57pp.
- Hoffmann, R. S. 1960. Summer birds of the Little Belt Mountains, Montana. Occasional Papers of Montana State University No. 1, Missoula.
- Johnsgard, P.A. 1979. Birds of the Great Plains: breeding species and their distribution. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln. 539 pp.
- Johnsgard, P.A. 1992. Birds of the Rocky Mountains with particular reference to national parks in the northern Rocky Mountain region. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. xi + 504 pp.
- Lenard, S., J. Carlson, J. Ellis, C. Jones, and C. Tilly. 2003. P. D. Skaar’s Montana bird distribution, 6th edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, MT. 144 pp.
- Matthews, W.L. 1980a. Wibaux-Beach comparison study: Sydney, Glendive and Plevna Study Areas. Bureau of Land Management, Miles City, MT. 50 p.
- Matthews, W.L. 1981. Broadus-Pumpkin Creek baseline inventory - wildlife. Bureau of Land Management, Miles City, MT. 83 p.
- Montana Bird Distribution Committee. 2012. P.D. Skaar's Montana bird distribution. 7th Edition. Montana Audubon, Helena, Montana. 208 pp. + foldout map.
- Rising, J.D. 1996. A guide to the identification and natural history of the sparrows of the United States and Canada. Academic Press, Inc., San Diego, CA. 365 pp.
- Saunders, A. A. 1912. A horseback trip across Montana. Condor 14:215-220.
- Shane, Thomas G. 2000. Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys). Species Account Number 542. The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca, NY: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved 3/25/2008 from The Birds of North America Online database
- Sibley, D. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY. 598 pp.
- Skaar, P. D., D. L. Flath, and L. S. Thompson. 1985. Montana bird distribution. Montana Academy of Sciences Monograph 3(44): ii-69.
- Skaar, P.D. 1969. Birds of the Bozeman latilong: a compilation of data concerning the birds which occur between 45 and 46 N. latitude and 111 and 112 W. longitude, with current lists for Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, impinging Montana counties and Yellowstone National Park. Bozeman, MT. 132 p.
- Stewart, R.E. 1975. Breeding birds of North Dakota. Tri-College Center for Environmental Studies, Fargo, North Dakota. 295 pp.
- TRC Environmental Corporation. 2009. Results of the 2008 grassland bird displacement study at the Judith Gap wind energy project, Wheatland County, Montana. Judith Gap Energy LLC. Chicago, IL. 24 pp + appendices.
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Office of Migratory Bird Management. 1995. Migratory nongame birds of management concern in the United States: the 1995 list. U.S. Government Printing Office: 1996-404-911/44014. 22 pp.
- U.S. Forest Service. 1991. Forest and rangeland birds of the United States: Natural history and habitat use. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Agricultural Handbook 688. 625 pages.
- VTN Environmental Sciences, Sheridan, Wyoming for Montana Dept. of State Lands, 1973, Environmental Analysis Decker Coal Company Mine, Decker, Montana.
- Waage, Bruce C., 1992, Western Energy Company Rosebud Mine, Colstrip, Montana: Annual Wildlife Monitoring Report, 1991 Field Season. December 1992.
- Waage, Bruce C., compiler., 1985, Western Energy Company Rosebud Mine, Rosebud County, Montana: Annual Wildlife Monitoring Report, 1984 Field Season. October 1985.
- Western Energy Co., Colstrip, MT., 1982, Western Energy Company Rosebud Mine, Colstrip, Montana: Annual Wildlife Report, 1982.
- Additional Sources of Information Related to "Birds"