‘Horns’ give away well-camouflaged lark

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Horned lark is year-round resident of New Mexico. Photo courtesy of Mary Schmauss

The horned lark is a bird that lives throughout much of North America, including New Mexico. It is a year-round resident but is rarely noticed. Once you see this unique-looking bird, it is clear how it got its name. The horned lark averages 7 inches long, has a pale brown body with a yellow face and throat, black mask, a dark breast band and small black “horns.”

The “horns” are actually feathers that at times stick up, giving them a horn-like appearance

Horned larks are common in expansive open habitat such as prairies, deserts, grasslands and plowed agricultural fields. They have an extensive elevation range, from sea level to 13,000 feet.

Their diet consists mainly of insects, including beetles, caterpillars and grasshoppers. They also glean seeds from low grasses. In fall and winter, they can travel in flocks of more than 100. Even in large numbers, the horned lark is tough to spot. They prefer to feed on the ground, and their plumage blends in with the earth.

The best way to get a good look is to patiently watch an open field and be alert to any slight movement on the ground. If you see one horned lark, there are sure to be many more nearby.

I have had good luck seeing the horned lark year round in the fields and roads at Valle Del Oro National Wildlife Refuge, south of Albuquerque. I have also seen them, mainly in the fall and winter, at the rest areas along I-25, south of Albuquerque.

Horned larks are numerous, with an estimated population of about 120 million; however, they have suffered a steep decline in the past 50 years due to habitat loss.

Mary Schmauss is the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Albuquerque. A lifelong birder and author of “For the Birds: A Month-by-Month Guide to Attracting Birds to Your Backyard.”

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