Sunday, April 26, 2015

Horned Larks

Male horned lark (c) John Ashley
Male horned lark watching over his territory from a fence post
Horned larks are philopatric, like female harlequin ducks, meaning that they return to breed in the area where they were born. They're also ground nesters and territorial pairs prefer open fields, like Killdeer, where the female excavates her nest on the north side of a clump of grass or even a lump of a dried cow manure. She sometimes decorates with a "doorstep" of pebbles along one side of her nest.

Because they return to the same areas every year, horned lark back feathers have evolved over time to mimic the color of the local soil. Color variations in their eyebrow stripe, throat and ear coverts are also used to divide our only native lark into 15 distinct subspecies.

Horned larks start nesting in Montana between mid-April and mid-May, depending on location. So watch for the handsome males guarding their nest territory from fence post whenever you drive across the Montana plains in spring.