The Monthly Web Magazine for Birdwatchers   
Home Bird Guide Features Birding news and events Bird reserves Birdwatching Clubs Mystery Bird Quiz Readers Gallery Birdwatching FAQ's Bird Shop
 
 Skylark - Fact File
Skylark
Alauda arvensis.
One of the most widespread birds of the region, found almost everywhere suitable habitat exists, from waste ground in city centres to remote off-shore islands. Although still common, has been declining rapidly in recent years.
All kinds of open ground, including farmland, moors, salt-marsh, heaths, upland pasture and industrial waste ground.

Its voice is the best distinguishing feature. Song is loud and continuous, and most often occurs while rising vertically into the air (sometimes sings from ground or perch). Flight call is a liquid chirrup.

18 - 19cm (7")



Skylark

During the pleasant, but unseasonably warm, weather of early March several birds were heard singing in the dark hours before dawn in the vicinity of Martham. They were, of all creatures, skylarks.

John Clegg took me to the fields concerned. Here several larks were singing in a rather subdued manner on the ground, though just how many there were was impossible to tell at this stage, for their brown plumage, streaked with lighter colours, blended in so perfectly with the soil background as to make them virtually invisible.

More conspicuous were two, presumably cock birds, circling high in the air on fluttering wings, pouring out their song which was so full of liquid warbling notes and short trills as to be a delight. To my ear, it sounded as I would have expected to hear during the height of the breeding season.

John said he thought these two songsters were probably resident cock birds into whose territory a party of migrating larks had flown torest and feed while on their earlier-than-normal journey back to their northern breeding grounds.

Our resident population of skylarks are `stay at homes', preferring not to migrate, while those from the colder northern countries have to or starve. It seems likely that the two songsters resented this influx of visitors and were proclaiming their territory from aloft.

A kestrel hovering in the vicinity of the main road did not appear to bother the residents or visitors at all, but when a sparrowhawk swept low over the field, all singing stopped and a surprising number of larks rose almost vertically into the air, mounting higher and higher, until they reached a considerable height, where they evidently felt safe. Here they circled for a time, then, as if at a command, they all started to spiral down in a series of falls and hoverings, to alight on an adjacent field.

At one time such a sight of a concentration of larks here would have been commonplace. Now it is rare enough to provoke comment. At the end of last century larks were so numerous in Britain, especially at migration time, that they were netted, killed and used for food and many were exported to Paris as culinary delicacies. This wretched and lucrative trade was centred on Brighton and the killing fields were the surrounding Sussex Downs, while those taken in East Anglia usually went to the London markets.

It was reckoned that during the season two hundredweight of larks were sent to France per day and one hundredweight went to London. With approximately 10 larks to the pound, three hundredweight would account for about 3360 birds being killed each day.

We have banned this trade in Britain, but it continues on the Continent.

By Percy Trett

Return to Bird Guide Index

Illustrations by Dave Nurney from - The Pocket Guide to the Birds Of Britain and North-West Europe By Chris Kightley and Steve Madge
© Pica Press and reproduced with kind permission.