Bird of the Week


Photo courtesy Charles Martinez

This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the lark sparrow. 

This bird’s rich, melodious song of trills, buzzes and clear notes; habit of singing in flight; and relatively high flight over the ground are reminiscent of Old World skylarks and responsible for the “lark” in this sparrow’s common name. 

The bold face pattern and white edged tail aid in identification of this large sparrow. The complex color pattern of dark, light and chestnut head stripes and chestnut ear patches along with its dark mustache stripes make it look like it is wearing a helmet. Its white breast contains a dark center spot. 

This sparrow is a bird of open habitats with scattered shrubs or trees. They do well in sites that have been disturbed by overgrazing or fire and in woodland areas that have a sparse canopy. In southwestern Colorado, they are often associated with sagebrush and Gambel oak. 

The lark sparrow is primarily a ground-foraging omnivore, feeding on insects, grass and weed seeds, and waste grains. In unusual behavior for a sparrow, the male performs elaborate courtship displays to females that include dancing for up to five minutes and strutting with wings spread like a turkey. If the female is receptive to his advances, she accepts a small twig from him. 

Males have been described as pugnacious in breeding season, engaging in frequent combats with each other on the ground or in the air. When incubation is almost over, they become more gregarious, and in winter feed in mixed flocks that include white-crowned and vesper sparrows. They will soon move to southern states and Mexico for the winter. 

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