Horned Lark in Winter

Horned Lark

Populations of horned larks (Eremophila alpestris) that breed in northern North America move south to the United States during the winter. Other horned lark populations are year-round residents throughout most of the states. These brown birds with black and yellow patterned heads and black feather “horns” can be found from sea level to 13,000 feet in altitude.

Horned larks are social birds and outside of the breeding season are often found in flocks (often mixed flocks). Their preferred habitat is bare ground or very short, open vegetation where they creep along the ground searching for seeds and insects.

Here in northeastern California horned larks are permanent residents. Yet I always think of them as a”winter” species. In the depths of winter when other birds are scarce and snow covers the landscape, horned larks often are seen on the road and along road edges. They search for food and grit where snow plows cleared the road and road shoulders. The sun’s radiant energy also thaws the snow on the roads and the bare, black asphalt may warm the horned larks during periods of bitter temperatures.

This horned lark was in grass along the road to Pilot Butte at Ash Creek Wildlife Area (Modoc County CA).

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