Greater hoopoe-lark (Alaemon alaudipes)

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Greater hoopoe-lark camouflaged against ground
IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern LEAST
CONCERN

Top facts

  • The greater hoopoe-lark is found in extreme desert environments, and is capable of surviving in temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius.
  • Although the greater hoopoe-lark looks rather unremarkable when on the ground, when it is in flight it displays a striking wing pattern.
  • The characteristic song of the greater hoopoe-lark consists of a series of melodious piping sounds and whistles.
  • The greater hoopoe-lark uses its long, down-curved bill to dig termites, grasshoppers and other invertebrates out of the sand.
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Greater hoopoe-lark fact file

Greater hoopoe-lark description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyAlaudidae
GenusAlaemon (1)

A resident of extreme desert environments, the greater hoopoe-lark (Alaemon alaudipes) appears pretty unremarkable on the ground (3). Its plumage is typically a pale sandy colour, helping it to blend in with its surroundings, with creamy white underparts and a cream breast with scattered black spots (3) (4). The body is elongated, with relatively long, slender grey legs and a down-curved grey bill used for probing into sand (2) (3). The eyes are dark brown and have a distinctive long and narrow eye stripe (3).

In flight the hoopoe-lark displays its striking wing pattern (3) (5), the most dramatic of any lark species, which is made up of white feathers spotted and barred with black (3). Both sexes are almost identical in appearance (3) (4), although females may be smaller and shorter-billed than males and may have less obvious markings on the breast (2). Juveniles look very similar to the adult birds but have less defined markings on the head, more broadly fringed feathers on the upperparts (3), and a shorter, pinker beak (2).

The population of the greater hoopoe-lark is made up of four subspecies, each of which differs slightly in size and colour, with Alaemon alaudipes boavistae, Alaemon alaudipes desertorum and Alaemon alaudipes doriae all being slightly smaller and greyer in colour than the nominate subspecies Alaemon alaudipes alaudipes (3).

The greater hoopoe-lark also possesses a very characteristic song, performed in flight, which consists of a series of melodious piping sounds and fluting whistles, and lasts about 12 seconds. The contact call is a short buzzing ‘zee’ or ‘zrrree’ sound (3).

Also known as
Greater hoopoe lark, hoopoe lark, hoopoe-lark.
French
Sirli du désert.
Size
Length: 18 - 23 cm (2) (3)
Male weight: 39 - 47 g (3)
Female weight: 30 - 39 g (3)
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Greater hoopoe-lark biology

Often seen running and digging for food in the sand with its long bill, the greater hoopoe-lark eats mostly invertebrates such as termites, grasshoppers and snails, although it will occasionally consume seeds or even small reptiles. To break the shells of snails, the greater hoopoe-lark can be seen dropping them onto a hard surface from the air, or hammering them against a rock. It is typically a solitary forager, but is sometimes seen in pairs or small groups. The greater hoopoe-lark is well adapted for its preferred desert conditions, and does not need to drink water to survive (3). During periods of intense heat, this species may shelter in the burrows of large Uromastyx lizards, in order to remain cool and prevent water loss (8).

The breeding season of the greater hoopoe-lark varies geographically and is dependent on rainfall. In some very dry years breeding may not take place at all. To attract a female, the male greater hoopoe-lark launches into an aerobatic song flight, steeply ascending from a high perch with wings and tail feathers spread, before twisting and sometimes somersaulting back down to the same perch (3). The female greater hoopoe-lark builds the nest at the base or in the tops of bushes or, more rarely, away from vegetation on gravelly plains. Ground nests are generally constructed in dug-out cups, whereas those placed in bushes are typically made using the bases of twigs, and all nests are lined with soft plant material (9).

Greater hoopoe-lark clutches typically contain around three eggs (9). Incubation of the clutch is shared by the male and female (4) (9), and lasts between 12 and 13 days (9). If threatened, the female will occasionally use its striking wing pattern to distract the potential predator away from the nest (10). After hatching, greater hoopoe-lark chicks stay in the nest for a further 12 to 13 days, and they remain with the adult birds for a further month after fledging the nest (3).

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Greater hoopoe-lark range

The greater hoopoe-lark has an extensive range stretching from the Cape Verde Islands in the west, across northern Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, to Pakistan and India in the east (3) (6).

The four subspecies of the greater hoopoe-lark each occupy a different part of its range. Alaemon alaudipes boavistae is found only on the islands of Boa Vista and Maio off the west coast of Africa, while A. a. alaudipes is found across the Sahara Desert from Morocco to Syria and north Arabia. The two further subspecies, A. a. desertorum and A. a. doriae, are found along the Red Sea coast, and in Iraq, Pakistan and northwest India, respectively (3).

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Greater hoopoe-lark habitat

The greater hoopoe-lark lives in arid, hot desert or semi-desert conditions (3) (4) (5), including grassland plains on offshore islands (7), which can reach temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius and receive less than 50 millimetres of rainfall a year. Sand or sandy soil is essential, and vegetation is typically sparse (3). The greater hoopoe-lark is typically found from sea level to elevations of up to 400 metres (7).

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Greater hoopoe-lark status

The greater hoopoe-lark is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Greater hoopoe-lark threats

The IUCN Red List does not currently list the greater hoopoe-lark as threatened, as it is common across most of its range and, despite declining numbers, it does not face any immediate threats (1).

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Greater hoopoe-lark conservation

There are no known conservation measures currently in place specifically for the greater hoopoe-lark (1). However, this species is known to nest in Gilf Kebir National Park in Egypt, where it may receive some protection (11).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi is a principal sponsor of ARKive. EAD is working to protect and conserve the environment as well as promoting sustainable development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
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Find out more

Find out more about the greater hoopoe-lark:

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Authentication

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:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

This species information was authored as part of the ARKive and Universities Scheme.
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Glossary

Incubation
The act of incubating eggs; that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
Invertebrates
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
Nominate subspecies
When a species is divided into subspecies, the originally described population is classified as the nominate subspecies. Indicated by the repetition of the species name; for example, Cyclura nubila nubila is the nominate subspecies of the Cayman Islands ground iguana, Cyclura nubila.
Subspecies
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2013)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Beaman, M. and Madge, S. (2010) The Handbook of Bird Identification: For Europe and the Western Palearctic. A&C Black Publishers, London.
  3. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D.A. (Eds.) (2004) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume  9: Cotingas to Pipits and Wagtails. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  4. MobileReference (2009) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of European Birds: An Essential Guide to Birds of Europe. MobileReference, Boston, Massachusetts.
  5. Arlott, N. (2007) Birds of the Palearctic: Passerines. HarperCollins, London.
  6. BirdLife International - Greater hoopoe-lark (July, 2013)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=8142
  7. Ash, J. and Atkins, J. (2009) Birds of Ethiopia and Eritrea: An Atlas of Distribution. A&C Black Publishers, London.
  8. Williams, J.B., Tieleman, B.I. and Shobrak, M. (1999) Lizard burrows provide thermal refugia for larks in the Arabian desert. Condor, 101: 714-717.
  9. Tieleman, B.I., van Noordwijk, H.J. and Williams, J.B. (2008) Nest site selection in a hot desert: Trade-off between microclimate and predation risk? Condor, 110: 116-124.
  10. Ali, S. and Ripley, S.D. (1986) Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan. Volume 5. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  11. Siliotti, A. (2010) Gilf Kebir National Park. American University in Cairo Press, Cairo.
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Greater hoopoe-lark camouflaged against ground  
Greater hoopoe-lark camouflaged against ground

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