2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Birds


Conservation status

Least Concern (LC)
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Alaudidae
Genus: Alauda
Species: A. arvensis
Binomial name
Alauda arvensis
Linnaeus, 1758

The Skylark (Alauda arvensis) is a small passerine bird species. They breed across most of Europe and Asia and in the mountains of north Africa. They are mainly resident in the west of its range, and eastern populations of are more migratory, moving further south in winter. Even in the milder west of its range, many birds move to lowlands and the coast in winter. Asian birds appear as vagrants in Alaska; this bird has also been introduced in Hawaii and western North America.


Skylarks are 16 to 18 cm long. They are birds of open farmland and heath. They are known throughout their range for the song of the male birds, which is delivered in hovering flight from heights of 50 to 100 meters, when a bird itself may be appear to be just a dot in the sky from the ground. The song generally lasts 2 to 3 minutes, but it tends to last longer later in the season. The males have broader wings than the females. This adaptation for more efficient hovering flight has probably evolved owing to female birds' preference for males that hover and sing for longer periods - probably as an indicator of overall fitness.

Like most other larks, the Skylark is a rather dull-looking species on the ground being mainly brown above and paler below. They have a short blunt crest on their heads, which can be raised or lowered. In flight they show a short tail and short broad wings. The tail and the rear edge of the wings are edged with white, which are visible when they are flying away, but not if they are flying towards the observer. They spend a lot of time on the ground looking for food and they have sturdy legs. They feed on seeds supplemented with insects in the breeding season.

The skylark makes a grass nest on the ground. Generally the nests are very difficult to find, hidden between foliage. 3 to 6 eggs are laid in June. A second or third brood may be started later in the year. The eggs are yellow/white with brownish/purple spots mainly at the large end.

Farming stewardship and conservation

In the UK skylark numbers have declined over the last 30 years, as determined by the Common Bird Census started in the early 1960s by The British Trust for Ornithology. There are now only 10% of the numbers that were present 30 years ago. The RSPB have shown that this massive decline is mainly due to changes in farming practices and only partly due to pesticides. In the past cereals were planted in the spring, grown through the summer and harvested in the early autumn. Cereals are now planted in the autumn, grown through the winter and are harvested in the early summer. The winter grown fields are much too dense in summer for the skylarks to be able to walk and run between the wheat stems to find their food.

Farmers are now encouraged and paid to maintain biodiversity and they can get a few points (toward DEFRAs Entry Level Stewardship financial rewards) for improving the habitat for Skylarks.

The RSPB's research of winter-planted wheat fields over the last 6 years has shown that suitable nesting areas for the Skylark can be made by turning the seeding machine off (or lifting the drill) for a 5 to 10 metres stretch as the tractor goes over the ground to briefly stop the seeds being sown. This is repeated in several areas within the same field to make about 2 skylark plots per hectare. Subsequent spraying and fertilizing can be continuous over the entire field. DEFRA suggests that skylark plots should not be nearer than 24 meters to the perimeter of the field, should not be near to telegraph poles, and should not enclosed by trees.

When the crop grows the skylark plots (areas without crop seeds) become areas of low vegetation where Skylarks can easily hunt insects and where skylarks can build well-hidden ground nests. These areas of low vegetation are just right for Skylarks, but the wheat in the rest of the field becomes too closely packed and too tall for the Skylarks to hunt on the ground for their food. At the RSPB's research farm in Cambridgeshire the Skylark numbers have increased three fold (from 10 pairs to 30 pairs) over 6 years. Fields where Skylarks were seen the year before (or near by) would be obvious good sites for skylark plots. Farmers have reported that skylark plots are easy to make and the RSPB hope that this simple effective technique can be copied nationwide.

Skylark in culture

A traditional collective noun for skylarks is an "exaltation". Although the OED describes this usage as "fanciful", it traces it back to a quotation from John Lydgate dating from about 1430.

The skylark has featured in many songs, poems and other works of literature and art.

  • In the Fleetwood Mac song " Rhiannon", Stevie Nicks sings about the title character that:
She rules her life like a fine skylark
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley's well known poem "To a Skylark" begins:
Hail to thee, blithe spirit!
Bird thou never wert!
  • The poem "The Lark Ascending" of 112 lines by George Meredith inspired the orchestral music also called " The Lark Ascending" by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
  • Johnny Mercer was the lyricist, and Hoagy Carmichael the composer for the popular song "Skylark".
  • Skylark was also the title of the sequel to Sarah, Plain and Tall. Patricia MacLachlan was the author of both books.
  • The children's song " Alouette" is about plucking a skylark (alouette is the French word for skylark).
  • The Montreal Alouettes are a Canadian football team named after the bird and the song.
  • Skylark is the name of the French racing team on the anime series IGPX.
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