7 ¼ inches
Statewide, uncommon in the Ozarks
The horned lark’s black forehead and eyebrow line extend into short “horns” on the bird’s crown, contributing to its moniker. They can be found in large open areas with extensive bare ground. Horned larks are especially common in plowed agricultural regions, nesting early before vegetation has grown tall. Their camouflaged upperparts make them inconspicuous, but they often occur in flocks, and their movement against the ground, and their distinctively marked faces and “horns,” can help you see them. They also sing and call from the ground, which can help pinpoint them. Their song, a soft twittering and tinkling sound, usually delivered in flight, is a lisping tsee or tzee-te-te.
True members of the lark family are numerous throughout Africa, Europe, and Asia. Early American settlers, confronted with new species, often gave good-singing birds names such as “meadowlark,” which is actually in the blackbird family.
The horned lark’s diet includes both seeds and insects. Seeds are picked from the ground or low plants. During nesting season, growing young need additional protein, so insects are eaten more frequently. Grasshoppers, beetles, sowbugs, and caterpillars are among the prey..
One of Missouri’s earliest nesting birds, nesting can begin in February. Nests are on bare ground or in short grass, on golf courses, airports, or open agricultural fields. The young often fledge before spring plowing. Courtship songs and displays begin in January and February.
Like other ground nesters, horned larks lose many young to predators, such as raccoons, skunks, and weasels. Females avoid drawing attention to the nest. If a predator does draw near, they perform a distraction display similar to the “broken-wing act” of killdeer, also ground nesters.
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