Oriental skylark (Alauda gulgula)

Also known as: Small skylark
GenusAlauda (1)
SizeLength: 15 - 16.5 cm (2)
Weight24 - 30 g (2)

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

Also known as the small skylark, this small and unassuming member of the lark family is renowned for its elaborate song and exuberant flight display. Rocketing almost vertically up to hover high in the sky, the oriental skylark pours out a prolonged melodious warbling, punctuated by twittering and sharp whistles, before plummeting back to earth (3). On the ground, the appearance of the oriental skylark is fairly unremarkable: the upperparts are streaked with dark brown and buff, and the underparts are pale buff and streaked with black on the breast (4). The tail is blackish-brown except for the outer tail feathers which are light buff (5). The oriental skylark has a fine pink bill, pink legs, white eye stripes and a small, erectile crest visible at the back of the head (4). It can be distinguished from the very similar (and more widely known) skylark (Alauda arvensis) by its smaller size, shorter tail feathers and longer bill. The sexes are alike in plumage and juveniles are characterized by their distinct white feather fringes (2).

This species has a large range throughout many parts of Asia, from Iran to China, and it is also occasionally found in Israel and the Arabian Peninsula. Some populations remain in the same range year-round, while others migrate between breeding and wintering areas. Birds breeding in central China and Tibet winter in Nepal, northern Myanmar and northern India, while the wintering areas of other populations are still unknown (1) (6).

The oriental skylark populates various habitats: subtropical shrub land, arable land, habitats near rivers and streams, salt marshes and large open forests (1).

The diet of adult oriental skylarks consists of seeds and insects, while nestlings have been observed being fed moths, caterpillars and insect larvae. The female lays two to five eggs in a small cup-shaped nest consisting of grasses, often laying at least two broods a season. The eggs are incubated for a period of 10 to 11 days, by the female alone or with contributions from the male, after which the chicks are fed by both parents. Chicks leave the nest after ten days but remain dependant on the male and female for up to two weeks (2).

The oriental skylark is not a particularly social bird; although it will pair for mating it is rarely seen in flocks, even during migration (7). Loose groups or pairs of skylarks may be observed whilst foraging for food on the ground (2). The small, prong-like crest on the head of the oriental skylark may be raised when the bird becomes excited or as part of a courtship ritual (4), during which the male is known to fly to great heights (up to 25 metres), hover and sing to attract females, before dropping back to the ground (7).

The oriental skylark is currently not globally threatened as, although the population size has not been quantified, it is common in most of its extensive habitat range (1). Despite this, oriental skylark populations are declining in certain areas, including China and Taiwan, due to urbanisation and loss of suitable habitats (2).

There are no known conservation measures currently in place for this species.

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Authenticated (01/09/10) by Geoff Welch, Chairman of OSME Council,

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Christie, D. (2004) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 9:  Cotingas to Pipits and Wagtails. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Ali, S. and Ripley, S.D. (2001) Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. Kennedy, R.S., Ganzalles, P.C., Dickinson, E.C., Mirander, H.C. and Fisher, T.H. (2000) A Guide to Birds of the Philippines. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. Grimmett, R. and Inskipp, T. (2005) Birds of Southern India. Christopher Helm Publishers Ltd, London.
  6. Welch, G. (2010) Pers. comm.
  7. Morlan, J. and Erickson, R. (1983) A Eurasion skylark at Point Ryes, California, with notes on skylark identification and systematic. Western Birds, 14(3): 113-126.