Return to Main Page   Dakota Birder Blog    

Lark Bunting

Calamospiza melanocorys

Length: 7 inches Wingspan: 11 inches Seasonality: Summer
ID Keys: (Breeding males) Black body and tail, bold white wing patch.  Females possibly confused with finch or sparrow species.

Lark Bunting - Calamospiza melanocorysThe breeding male Lark Bunting (pictured at right) is an unmistakable resident of shortgrass prairies of the Plains states, with an all-black body and bold white wing patch.  They are the only sparrow species where males molt from a bold summer breeding plumage to a plainer winter plumage. They are gregarious birds, and are usually found in loose flocks and breeding colonies.

Habitat: Prefers to breed on native shortgrass prairies.  Will also breed in sagebrush habitats if there is a sufficient understory of grasses.  Can be found in a wide variety of open habitats during migration and in winter.

Diet: Primarily feeds on insects during the summer months.  Seeds and waste grain become the primary food item during the winter months. They will also occasionally feed on small fruits.

Behavior: Primarily forages by walking or running along the ground.  They will also pursue insects that are stirred up by flying after them and catching them in flight. 

Nesting: June and July.  The nest of a a Lark Bunting is a cup of grasses, weeds, plant down, and animal hair, placed on the ground in a protected area such as under a clump of grass or weeds.  The female usually lays 4 or 5 eggs, and she does most of the incubation.  When the eggs hatch, both parents help to feed the young.  The young fledge after about 10 days.

Song: Repetitive low liquid whistling. Click here and here to hear the species.

Migration: Summers throughout the Western Plains into southern Canada.  Winters in the southwestern U.S. and points south.

Interactive eBird map: Click here to access an interactive eBird map of Lark Bunting sightings

Similar Species: Bobolink perhaps, with the mostly black body and an obvious white patch, although plumage patterns are clearly quite different. Females however could potentially be confused with several sparrow species.

Bird Feeders: Will occasionally attend feeders for grains and small seeds.

South Dakota "HotSpot": Not a difficult species to find if you're in the western half of the state. They prefer short-grass prairies, which constitute much of western South Dakota. Finding Lark Buntings simply means driving through short-grass prairie in the western part of the state and looking on fence posts and barbed wire fences for perched birds.

Conservation Status: Populations are reduced from historical levels.  Still common in areas, but habitat loss is behind declines in recent decades. Despite the population declines, overall populations are not currently threatened, and the IUCN lists the Lark Bunting as a species of "Least Concern".

Further Information: 1) USGS Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter, Lark Bunting

2) Audubon's Field Guide - Lark Bunting

3) WhatBird - Lark Bunting

Photo Information: July 23rd 2011 -Grand River National Grasslands, South Dakota - Terry Sohl

Additional Photos: Click on the image chips or text links below for additional, higher-resolution Lark Bunting photos.

 

Click on the map below for a higher-resolution view
Lark Bunting - Range Map
South Dakota Status: Common summer breeding resident in the western part of the state.  Casual migrant and summer resident elsewhere.

Additional Lark Bunting Photos
Click for a higher-resolution version of these photos
 Lark Bunting - Calamospiza melanocorysLark Bunting - Calamospiza melanocorysLark Bunting - Calamospiza melanocorysLark Bunting - Calamospiza melanocorysLark Bunting - Calamospiza melanocorysLark Bunting - Calamospiza melanocorysLark Bunting - Calamospiza melanocorysLark Bunting - Calamospiza melanocorysLark Bunting - Calamospiza melanocorysLark Bunting - Calamospiza melanocorysLark Bunting - Calamospiza melanocorysLark Bunting - Calamospiza melanocorysLark Bunting - Calamospiza melanocorysLark Bunting - Calamospiza melanocorysLark Bunting - Calamospiza melanocorys