This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the horned lark.
A few weeks ago, at the beginning of snow melt, but when the ground was still covered in my valley, I noticed some grayish-brown, sparrow-sized birds hopping along on the snow surface looking rather bewildered. They were horned lark males that had arrived in Pagosa Country a bit early.
While the females of this species are rather nondescript, males have a black chest band with some yellow below the bill on their necks, and distinctive, tiny, horn-like feathers just above the eyes on either side of their heads.
Horned larks feed on the ground, seeking out seeds or small insects, and can often be found in mixed flocks with others of their kind, or with similar looking longspurs or other small ground-feeding birds. Typically, they prefer cleared ground with little or no grass cover.
Females build their nests by scratching out a depression in the ground about 1.5 inches deep and 3-4 inches across, lining it with grass or other plant matter, and topping it off with fur, feathers and similar materials. If you happen upon one of their nests, it is best to leave it alone — the females will attempt to lure invaders away from the nest, but if potential predators are nearby, they won’t return to the nest until the danger has passed.
While still numerous, habitat loss and fragmentation likely have contributed to population declines. Although they often feed on snow-covered fields, I can’t help but think that the ones I saw were expecting a different landscape when they arrived from their wintering grounds further south.
For information on bird-watching events, visit www.weminucheaudubon.org or www.facebook.com/weminucheaudubon/.