A long-legged Australian warbler (2), the brown songlark (Cincloramphus cruralis) is notable for the large difference in size between the male and female (2) (3) (4) (5). This species shows the greatest sexual size difference of any passerine, with the male being nearly twice the length and two to three times the weight of the female (2) (3). The difference is so great that when early specimens of the brown songlark arrived in Europe, the two sexes were thought to belong to separate species (6).
The breeding male brown songlark is largely a rich dark brown, with a slightly paler brown crown, a black beak, dark brown to black eyes (2) (4) (5) and brownish legs (2). In contrast, the female brown songlark is sandy brown above with dark streaks on the crown and a pale line above the eye. The female’s throat is whitish and the underparts are pale grey to brownish, with dark streaks on the breast and flanks, and dark spots on the lower abdomen (2). The female brown songlark also has a paler grey-brown beak than the male, as well as paler brown legs (2) (3).
Outside of the breeding season, the male brown songlark resembles the female, but may have dark blotches on the face and breast and is also easily distinguished by its larger size. Juvenile brown songlarks resemble the adult female (2). The brown songlark has a long tail (2) (6) and a relatively small, fine beak (2).
The male brown songlark performs conspicuous song-flights all day long during the breeding season, taking off from a perch and fluttering into the air while singing a rather metallic tune, before dropping back down to the ground (2) (3) (5). The song consists of a short, repeated phrase (3) and has been likened to the squeaking of a wheel in a rusty axle (2). Outside of the breeding season the male becomes silent and unobtrusive (2).
- Also known as
- Australian songlark, black-breasted songlark, brown singing lark.
- Cinclorhamphus cruralis, Megalurus cruralis.
- Male length: 24 - 26 cm (2)
- Female length: 18 - 20 cm (2)
- Male weight: 66.5 - 84 g (2) (3)
- Female weight: 25 - 36 g (2) (3)
Brown songlark biology
The brown songlark forages on the ground, walking, running and hopping as it searches for food (2). Its diet includes a range of small invertebrates and their larvae, and this species also eats small seeds (2) (4) (5) (6). If disturbed, the brown songlark typically flies low before diving into cover with its tail raised, and it usually roosts on the ground under cover (2).
The breeding season of the brown songlark runs from around August or September to February (2) (3) (6). Outside of the breeding season this species is either solitary or occurs in scattered flocks (2), but when breeding the males become highly territorial, performing conspicuous song-flights or singing from a prominent perch with the tail held high and the wings drooping (2) (3). The female brown songlarks nest within the males’ territories (3), and each male may mate with several females (2) (3).
The female brown songlark constructs the nest, which is built in a small depression in the ground and consists of fine dry grasses. The nest is usually well hidden at the base of a grass tussock or small shrub, and is lined with fine grass or hair. Two to five eggs are laid, and are incubated by the female alone. The eggs hatch after 11 to 13 days and the chicks leave the nest at 10 to 14 days old. The female is mainly responsible for feeding the chicks, but the male may occasionally assist (2) (3).
If the nest is predated, for example by a fox or snake, the female brown songlark can lay a replacement clutch of eggs. Some females also go on to lay a second clutch after successfully raising an earlier brood of chicks (2) (3).
Brown songlark range
The brown songlark is endemic to Australia, where it occurs over most of the continent except for parts of the far north (2) (4) (5) (7). A nomadic species, it tends to move around in response to rainfall (2) (4) (5).
Brown songlark habitat
An inhabitant of open country, the brown songlark is typically found in open grassy plains, pastures and grassland with shrubs and a few scattered trees (2) (4) (5).
Brown songlark status
The brown songlark is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Brown songlark threats
The brown songlark is a common and widespread species, and is not currently considered to be at risk of extinction (7). This species is not known to be facing any major threats at present (7), and it has adapted well to the clearance of woodlands for extensive crop farming in southern Australia (2). However, the brown songlark’s nesting success may potentially be reduced in some areas by predation by the red fox (Vulpes vulpes), an introduced species (3).
Brown songlark conservation
No specific conservation measures are currently known to be in place for the brown songlark.
Find out more
Find out more about the brown songlark and its conservation:
More information on conservation in Australia:
This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
- A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
- Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
- Stage in an animal’s lifecycle after it hatches from the egg. Larvae are typically very different in appearance to adults; they are able to feed and move around but usually are unable to reproduce.
- A species which roams irregularly from place to place in search of food and water, without returning to a fixed location.
- A group of more than 5,000 species of small to medium-sized birds, sometimes known as perching birds or song birds, which have widely varied plumage and shape. They all have three toes pointing forward and one pointed backward, which assists with perching.
- Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a colony that occupies and defends an area.
- An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.
IUCN Red List (March, 2013)
del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D. (2006) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 11: Old World Flycatchers to Old World Warblers. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Magrath, M.J.L., Brouwer, L., van Petersen, A., Berg, M.L. and Komdeur, J. (2003) Breeding behaviour and ecology of the sexually size-dimorphic brown songlark, Cinclorhamphus cruralis. Australian Journal of Zoology, 52: 429-441.
Birds in Backyards - Brown songlark (March, 2013)
BirdLife Australia - Brown songlark (March, 2013)
BirdLife International (2011) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Birds. Dorling Kindersley Limited, London.