Streaked Horned Larks on the Reserve?
Horned Larks can be seen year round in the Reserve. Look for these inconspicuous birds as they walk slowly in the short grass or as they fly in big flocks low and fast across the grassy slopes. The only true lark native to North America, these small, gray-brown, short-legged birds are found in open country all across North America. They breed from the arctic tundra of northern Alaska, south through the highlands of southern Mexico. Flocks numbering in the hundreds or thousands stream across the grasslands of eastern Merced County from October through March. Small numbers of the resident subspecies, Eremophila alpestris actia certainly nest in the Reserve, but we've not yet confirmed this by discovering a nest.
The American Ornithologists Union recognizes 21 different Horned Lark subspecies ( a huge number!), with 15 occurring in western North America. The subspecies is a taxonomic rank below that of species. The term refers to populations that are distinct morphologically (usually based on plumage color and size) and that are separated geographically. At 21 subspecies, the Horned Lark is probably unique among North American songbirds.
The “Streaked” Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris strigata) occurred historically between Oregon and British Columbia. Not so today. According to the National Audubon Society, “It has already been extirpated as a breeding species throughout much of its range including all of its former range in British Columbia, the San Juan Islands, the Northern Puget Trough, the Washington Coast north of Grays Harbor, the Oregon Coast, and the Rogue and Umpqua Valleys in Southwestern Oregon.” The current range includes the Willamette Valley, Columbia River Islands, Washington Coast, and South Puget Sound prairies. In fall 2013, the US Fish and Wildlife Service listed it as “Threatened.”
In winter, Horned Larks from all regions to our north head south for warmer climes. Could “Streaked” Horned Larks spend the winter in the Reserve? Adrian Wolf, with the Center for Natural Lands Management, is asking us to help answer this question.
A large proportion of the South Puget Sound Horned Lark population has been monitored since 2006. The 2014 breeding season was extremely favorable for larks, and over 100 South Puget Sound nestlings received unique color bands. Many of these 3- to 5-month old birds will leave their breeding grounds and head south for the winter.
This is a request for observations of color-banded birds. Typically, the band combinations can only be read accurately with a spotting scope. However, we are interested in the locations of any banded lark, even if you’re unable to read ANY of the bands or determine which legs they’re on. The particular arrangement of color bands on the tarsus, and placement of the color bands on each leg is crucial to identifying individuals, which will help us determine where these larks overwinter. All color-banded larks received a color band on top of the USFWS band on the right leg (either green, orange, white or purple) – this color identifies the birds natal site. The left leg may contain one or two color bands. If you observe a banded lark, please record the following information:
1. color combination on each respective leg
2. date and location where you detected the bird (latitude and longitude coordinates would
3. a photograph, if possible
Please send observations to, Adrian Wolf, with the Center for Natural Lands Management (Email - email@example.com).
The Reserve student team will be keeping a close look over the lark flocks this winter and with luck we may find some color banded birds from Puget Sound.