Horned Lark Eremophila alpestris


Justification of Red List category
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Population justification
Partners in Flight estimate the global population to number 140,000,000 mature individuals (A. Panjabi in litt. 2017). The European population is estimated at 2,140,000-6,510,000 pairs, which equates to 4,280,000-13,000,000 mature individuals (BirdLife International 2015). National population sizes have been estimated at 100-10,000 breeding pairs, 50-1,000 individuals on migration and 50-1,000 wintering individuals in China as well as <1,000 individuals on migration and <1,000 wintering individuals in Japan (Brazil 2009).

Trend justification

The population in Europe is estimated to be stable (BirdLife International 2015). In North America, this species has undergone a large, significant decline over the last 50 years (70% decline between 1966 and 2015 based on the North American Breeding Bird Survey [Sauer et al. 2017], or 65% decline between 1970 and 2014 based on Partners in Flight [A. Panjabi in litt. 2017]). Recent trends suggest a significant decline of 22.9% over the last three generations in North America (Sauer et al. 2017). Therefore the global population is assessed as being in decline.


This species is the only lark to have successfully colonized tundra and alpine habitats. Throughout its range, it prefers mainly barren terrain with very short vegetation. In Eurasia, it breeds mainly in arctic tundra, dry stony patches in lichen tundra, barren steppes and arctic-alpine zones. It also occupies open coasts and dunes in the non-breeding season. In western Europe, migrants of the subspecies flava are largely confined to open coastal habitats around the North Sea in winter. In North America, Horned Lark is widely distributed across most open habitats from sea-level up to c.4,000 m. In the Andes, the subspecies peregrina uses short-grass pastureland and bare fields to at least 3,100 m.
In Eurasia, Horned Lark breeds from late May to mid-July in Scandinavia, but from mid-June in Arctic Russia. In North America, it breeds from mid-February in southern USA and from mid-May in the Canadian Arctic. The female builds the nest in an excavated cavity or natural depression on the ground, which is filled with woven plant material, lined with feathers or other fine material and has stones, bark, clods of earth, animal dung and other materials placed around it. The nest is usually positioned to reduce wind flow across it to as little as a tenth of ambient wind speed and to maximize shade. Clutches consist of one to eight eggs, but mostly two to five, although clutch size increases with latitude.
Horned Lark feeds on a wide range of invertebrates in summer and plant material in winter. Nestlings are fed almost entirely with invertebrates.
The species is migratory or partially migratory in the north and mostly resident or an altitudinal migrant in the south. Across the Holarctic Region, subspecies in the far north are wholly migratory, with much or all of breeding range abandoned in winter. In the south of the range, Horned Lark is an altitudinal migrant (Donald and de Juana 2014).


In Europe, drastic declines were noted since 1950s in northern Fennoscandia, especially Finland, which were believed to be due to overgrazing of lichen by reindeer (Rangifer tarandus) (Donald and de Juana 2014). The subspecies peregrina in the Colombian Andes is threatened by the introduced Kikuyu Grass (Cenchrus clandestinus), unfavourable agricultural practices and unrestricted use of pesticides. In North America, changes in agriculture are considered a threat, including the replacement of arable crops by biomass-fuel production and the change from conventional tillage to minimum tillage. Agricultural abandonment and direct poisoning by pesticides are also considered threats (Donald and de Juana 2014).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway

Bern Convention Appendix II. There are no known current conservation measures for this species within Europe.

Conservation Actions Proposed

Ensure careful management and protection of breeding sites, in particular from overgrazing, as well as the protection of wintering sites. Research into the species's ecology and habitat requirements should be undertaken to help inform future conservation management.


Text account compilers
Ashpole, J, Ekstrom, J., Butchart, S., Hermes, C.

Panjabi, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2024) Species factsheet: Eremophila alpestris. Downloaded from on 01/03/2024.
Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2024) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 01/03/2024.