1902 Encyclopedia > Lark

Lark




LARK

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most place in our literature, and there is hardly a poet or poetaster who has not made it his theme, to say nothing of the many writers of prose who have celebrated its qualities in passages that will be remembered so long as our language lasts. It is also one of the most favourite cage birds, as it will live for many years in captivity, and, except in the season of moult, will pour forth its thrilling song many times in an hour for weeks or months together, while its affection for its owner is generally of the most marked kind. Difficult as it is to estimate the comparative abundance of different species of birds, there would probably be no error in accounting the Skylark the most plentiful of the Class in Western Europe. Not only does it frequent almost all unwooded districts in this quarter of the globe, making known its presence throughout spring and summer, everywhere that it occurs, by its gladsome and heart-lifting notes, but, unlike most birds, its numbers increase with the spread of agricultural improvement, and since the beginning of the century the extended breadth of arable land in Great Britain must have multiplied manifold the Lark-population of the country. Nesting chiefly in the growing corn, its eggs and young are protected in a great measure from all molestation ; and, as each pair of birds will rear several broods in the season, their produce on the average.may be set down as at least quadrupling the original stock—the eggs in each nest varying from five to three. The majority of young Larks seem to leave their birthplace so soon as they can shift for themselves, but what immedi-ately becomes of them is one of the many mysteries of bird life that has not yet been penetrated. When the stubbles are cleared, old and young congregate in flocks ; but the young then seen appear to be those only of the later broods. In the course of the autumn they give place to others coming from mors northerly districts, and then as winter succeeds in great part vanish, leaving but a tithe of the numbers previously present. On the approach of severe weather, in one part of the country or another, flocks arrive, undoubtedly from the Continent, which in magnitude cast into insignificance all those that have hitherto inhabited the district. On the east coast of both Scotland and England this immigration has been several times noticed as occurring in a constant stream for as many as three days in succession. Further inland the birds are observed " in numbers simply incalculable," and " in countless hundreds." On such occasions the bird-catchers are busily at work with their nets or snares, so that 20,000 or 30,000 Larks are often sent together to the London market, and at the lowest estimate ¿£2000 worth are annually sold there. During the winter of 1867-68, 1,255,500 Larks, valued at £2260, were taken into the town of Dieppe. The same thing happens in various places almost every year, and many persons are apt to believe that thereby the species is threatened with extinction. When, however, it is con-sidered that, if these birds were left to continue their wanderings, a largo proportion would die of hunger before reaching a place that would supply them with food, and that of the remainder an enormous proportion would perish at sea in their vain attempt to find a settlement, it must be acknowledged that man by his wholesale massacres, which at first seem so brutal, is but anticipating the act of Nature, and on the whole probably the fate of the Larks at his hands is not 'worse than that which they would encounter did not his nets intervene.
The Skylark's range extends across the Old World from the Faroe to the Kurile Islands. In winter it occurs in North China, Nepaul, the Punjab, Persia, Palestine, Lower Egypt, and Barbary. It sometimes strays to Madeira, and has been killed in Bermuda, though its unassisted appear-ance there is doubtful. It has been successfully introduced on Long Island in the State of New York, and into New Zealand—in which latter it is likely to become as trouble-some a denizen as are other subjects upon which Acclima-tization Societies have exercised their meddlesome activity. Allied to the Skylark a considerable number of species have

been described, of which perhaps a dozen may be deemed valid, besides a supposed local race, Alauda agrestis, the difference between which and the normal bird is shown in the annexed woodcut (fig. 1), kindly lent to this work by Mr Dresser, in whose Birds of Europe it is described at length. These are found in various parts of Africa and Asia.
The WOODLAEK, Alauda arlorea, is the only other clearly-established European species of the genus, as now limited by some recent authorities. It is a much more local and therefore a far less numerous bird than the- Skylark, from which it may be easily distinguished by its finer bill, shorter tail, more spotted breast, and light superciliary stripe. Though not actually inhabiting woods, as its common name might imply, it is seldom found far from trees. Its song wants the variety and power of the Sky-lark's, but has a resonant sweetness peculiarly its own. The bird, however, requires much care in captivitj^, and is far less often caged than its congener. It has by no means so wide a range as the Skylark, and perhaps the most eastern locality recorded for it is Erzeroum, while its ap-pearance in Egypt and even in Algeria must be accounted rare.
Not far removed from the foregoing is a group of Larks characterized by a larger crest, a stronger and more curved bill, a rufous lining to the wings, and some other minor features. This group has been generally termed Galerita, and has for its type the Crested Lark, the Alauda cristata of Linnaeus, a bird common enough in parts of France and some other countries of the European Continent, and said to have been obtained several times in the British Islands. Many of the birds of this group frequent the borders if not the interior of deserts, and such as do so exhibit a more or less pale coloration, whereby they are assimilated in hue to that of their haunts. The same character-istic may be observed in several other groups—especi-ally those known as belonging to the Genera Galandrella, Ammomanes, and Certhilauda, some species of which are of a light sandy or cream colour. The genus last named is of very peculiar appearance, presenting in some respects an extraordinary resemblance to the Hoopoes, so much so that the first specimen described was referred to the genus Upupa, and named U. alaudipes. The resemblance, how-ever, is merely one of analogy. The HOOPOE (q.v.) belongs to a totally distinct Order of birds, widely differing ana-tomically and physiologically, and we can hardly yet assume that this resemblance is the effect of what is commonly

called " mimicry," though that may ultimately prove to be the case.





There is, however, abundant evidence of the susceptibility of the Alaudine structure to modification from external cir-cumstances,—in other words, of its plasticity ; and perhaps no homogeneous group of Passeres could be found which better displays the working of " Natural Selection." This fact was recognized many years ago, and ere "Darwinism " was founded as a creed, by one whose knowledge of the Alaudidx wa=i based on the safe ground of extensive persoual ob-servation, and by one wdio cannot be suspected of any prejudice in favour of new-fangled notions. The remarks made by Canon Tristram (Ibis, 1359, pp. 429-433) de-serve all attention, going, as they go, to the root of the matter, and nothing but the exigencies of which is scutellate behind as well as in front, but a char-acter easily overlooked.


In the Old World Larks are found in most parts of the Palsearctic, Ethiopian, and Indian Regions ; but only one genus, Mirafra, inhabits Australia, where it is represented by, so far as is ascertained, a single species, M. horsfieldi; and there is no true Lark in-digenous to New Zealand. In the New World there is also only one genus, Otocorys^ where it is represented by two species, one of which, found over near-ly the whole of North America, is certainly not

space precludes their reproduction here. A monograph of the Family executed by a competent ornithologist from an evolutionary point of view could not fail to be a weapon of force in the hands of all evolutionists. Almost every character that among Passerine birds is accounted most sure is in the Larks found subject to modification. The form of the bill varies in an ex-traordinary degree. In the Woodlark (fig. 2, A), already noticed, it is almost as slender as a Warbler's; in Ammo-manes it is short; in Certhi-lauda (fig. 2, B) it is elon-gated and curved ; in Pyrrhu-lauda and Melanocorypha (fig. 3, A) it is stout and Finch-like; while in Rhamphocorys (fig. 3, B) it is exaggerated to an extent that surpasses almost any Fringilline form, exceeding in its development
that found in some members FIG. 3. A, Melanocorypha

of the perplexing genus Para- calandra ; B, Bhampho-doxornis, and even presenting cor!/s dot-bey. a resemblance to the same feature in the far-distant Anas-tomus—the tomia of the maxilla not meeting those of the mandíbula along their whole length, but leaving an open space between them. The hind claw, generally greatly elongated in Larks, is in Calandrella (fig. 4) and some other genera reduced to a very moderate size. The wings exhibit almost every modification, from the almost entire

FIG. 4.—Calandrella braehydaelyla.
abortion of the first primary in the Skylark to its con-siderable development (fig. 5), and from tertials and scapu-lars of ordinary length to the extreme elongation found in the Motacillidx and almost in certain Limicolx. The most constant character indeed of the Alaudidx would seem to be that afforded by the podotheca or covering of the tarsus, distinguishable from the Shore-Lark of Europe and Asia, 0. alpestris; while the other, confined to the higher eleva-tions of more southern latitudes, seems to be the relic of a former immigration (perhaps during a glacial period) of the northern form, which has through isolation come to be differentiated as 0. chrysolxma (see BIEDS, vol. iii. p. 746). The Shore-Lark is in Europe a native of only the extreme north, but is very common near the shores of the Varangei Fjord, and likewise breeds on mountain-tops further south-west, though still well within the Arctic circle. The mellow tone of its call-note has obtained for it in Lapland a name signifying " Bell-bird," and the song of the cock is lively, though not very loud. The bird trustfully resorts to the neighbourhood of houses, and even enters the villages of East Finmark in search of its food. It produces at least two broods in the season, and towards autumn migrates to lower latitudes in large flocks. Of late years these have been observed almost every winter on the east coast of Great Britain, and the species instead of being regarded, as it once was, in the light of an accidental visitor to the United Kingdom, must now be deemed an almost regular visitor, though in very varying numbers. The observations on its habits made by Audubon in Labrador have long been known, and often reprinted. Other congeners of this bird are the 0. p/enicillata of south-eastern Europe, Palestine, and Central Asia—to which are referred by Mr Dresser (B. Europe, iv. p. 401) several other forms origin-ally described as distinct; but the specific validity of one of them, 0. longirostris, has since been reasserted by Dr Scully (Ibis, 1881, p. 581)—as well as the 0. bilopha of Arabia and Mauritania. All these birds, which have been termed Horned Larks, from the tuft of elongated black feathers growing on each side of the head, form a little group easily recognized by their peculiar coloration, which calls to mind some of the Ringed Plovers, jEgialitis (see KILLDEEE, p. 76 of the present volume).
The name Lark is also frequently applied to many birds which do not belong to the Alaudidx as now understood.

The Mud-Lark, Eock-Lark, Titlark, and Tree-Lark are I PIPITS (q.v.). The Grasshopper-Lark is one of the aquatic WARBLERS (q.v.), while the Meadow-Lark of America, as has been already said, is an ICTERUS (vol. xii. p. 697). Sand-Lark and Sea-Lark are likewise names often given to some of the smaller members of the Limicolx. Of the true Larks, Alaudidx, there may be perhaps about one hundred species, and it is believed to be a physiological character of the Family that they moult but once in the year, while the Pipits, which in general appearance so much resemble them, undergo a double moult, as do others of the Motacillidx, to which they are most nearly allied, (A. N.)


Footnotes

See YarreU (Hist. Br. Birds, ed. i, i. pp. 618-021), where par-ticular references to the above statement, and some others, are given.
The name, however, is inadmissible, owing to its prior use in Entomology.

By assigning far too great an importance to tins superficial char-acter (in comparison with others), Sundevall (Tentamen, pp. 53-63) was induced to array the Larks, Hoopoes, and several other hetero-geneous groups in one "Series," to which he applied the name of Scutelliplantares

The osteology of this bird is minutely described by Dr Shufeldt (Bull. U. S. Gcol. Survey, vi. pp. 119-147).

2 By American writers it is usually called Eremophila, hut that name seems to he preoccupied in natural history.







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