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What is a Lark?

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  • Written By: K. Willis
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 01 November 2016
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Larks are birds belonging to the Alaudidae family, which contains 17 genera made up of 91 species. The preferred habitat of the lark is open countryside, though different species inhabit areas from desert fringes to alpine tundra. Most types of larks nest on the ground and camouflage their nests in grassland areas. This puts them at risk from predators and from agricultural machinery, because many larks nest in fields that are often harvested before young birds have fledged.

Larks are known for their song, which is melodic and sometimes described as haunting or moving. It is very often the male that sings, sometimes for hours at a time and usually when he is trying to attract a mate or defend his territory against threats from other males. Some types of larks, including the latakoo lark and the crested lark, are capable of imitating the songs of different species. Some are even able to mimic human whistling.

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One of the rarest lark species is the Raso lark, Alauda razae, with the population estimate in 2009 being just 190 birds. The species is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) critically endangered list because of its small population numbers and its tiny habitat range. These birds are only found in the wild on the uninhabited island of Raso in Cape Verde; the bird's habitat measures only 2.77 square miles (7.2 square km), and only a small portion of the island is suitable for use as breeding grounds. The Raso lark is extremely sensitive to rainfall fluctuation and breeding decreases dramatically in years with below-average rainfall. The ground breeders also are at risk of predation from dogs, cats and rats, which were introduced to the island by fishermen, and from native reptiles.

The horned lark is native to most of Canada and the United States, and its preferred habitat is wide, open spaces such as beaches, grass plains and fields. The species was not considered threatened or endangered, as of 2010, because it had a large range and prolific population. The bird can raise up to three broods a year, and each brood consists of from two to five young. The horned lark nests in depressions in the ground and hides its nest with a canopy of dried grasses. It is the only lark species native to the New World, which consists of the Americas, Canada and the islands of Oceania.

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