Feeding ecology and diet

Larks feed on arthropods, as well as seeds, green plant material, buds, and fruits. Food items are taken directly from the ground or pecked from plants. Some larks even prey on venomous insects or arthropods that have chemical defense


Eremophila arborea Mirafra alpestris hypermetra

Eremopterix nigriceps

Calandrella rufescens

Ramphocoris clotbey

Galerida cristata

Chersophilus duponti

Alaemon alaudipes

Bills of several different larks. (Illustration by Emily Damstra)

strategies, such as ants, darkling beetles, stink bugs, and millipedes. Rarely, flying insects are taken in aerial pursuit. The bill can be used for digging and probing. Depending on their diet, more or less insectivorous and granivorous species can be distinguished, but seasonal changes occur; the crested lark, wood lark, and skylark take fewer seeds during breeding season than in winter. All larks feed arthropods to their young, only Stark's lark (Eremalauda starki) feeds a high proportion of unripe grass seeds, even to newly hatched chicks.

In mainly insectivorous larks, the male is larger and has a longer bill than the female. This is most conspicuous in the greater hoopoe, the long-billed lark, and their relatives, which use their slender and decurved bills for digging in the ground in search of insect larvae. Sexual dimorphism in bill and body size also occurs in the bar-tailed lark (Ammomanes cincturus) and Gray's lark (A. grayi), which feed mainly on seeds. Such differences in size enable both sexes of the same species to exploit different food resources within the same habitat.

Most larks swallow whole seeds, which are crushed in their stomach using grit. Indigestible remains are ejected as small pellets. Larks in the genera Calandrella, Eremopterix, and Melanocorypha de-husk seeds in a finchlike manner, fixing the grain between the tongue and palatine and breaking it up. Crested larks, wood larks, and skylarks remove husks from seeds by beating them against the ground. They use the same technique for removing the legs and wings of large insects. Like the song thrush (Turdus philomelos), greater hoopoe larks crack the shells of snails using stones like an anvil. The same behavior was observed once in the crested lark in Morocco, but never in Central Europe. The greater hoopoe lark also frequently drops snails onto stones until their shells break.

Many larks satisfy their thirst and maintain body weight by drinking dew when water is not available. Various species, including the black, desert, Gray's, and Stark's lark, as well as the black-crowned and black-eared sparrow-lark, drink brackish or even salty water.

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