Oriental Skylark versus Eurasian Skylark

Kleine FeldlercheThe Oriental Skylark (Alauda gulgula) is basically an “eastern” species.  Nonetheless, the species is a local migrant and winter visitor in Israel. The best places to observe them are the are alfalfa and lucerne fields in the valleys. During migration periods, these larks are regularly seen along the Mediterranean coast. The Lesser Skylark is often seen in small groups of about 3-5 birds, but sometimes in larger concentrations in winter. It is therefore quite possible that the Oriental Skylark will be encountered at some point in Western Europe. Therefore it is good to have the most important characteristics for species identification ready – especially in differentiation to the Eurasian Skylark.

Many observers familiar with the Lesser Skylark explain how strikingly different the structure of the Lesser Skylark is from its close relative, the Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis). Of course, the species is most likely to be confused with the Eurasian Skylark, especially with the smaller subspecies. However, when visibility is good, the attentive observer should not perceive the separation of the species as a serious problem.

A trip to Sri Lanka gave the chance to observe and photograph several individuials of the nominate subspecies gulgula in Bundala Nationalpark in southern Sri Lanka. Alauda gulgula gulgula is spread as a breeding bird over almost the whole India subcontinent, from the north-central down south to Sri Lanka.

The Oriental Skylark is a small lark with medium-long bill, fairly short tail, short primary projection, small erectile crest. The nominate race, which we saw on our trip to Sri Lanka, has a fairly distinct buffish supercilium, the crown and the upperparts are warm rufous-buff with blackish-brown streaks. The birds lack a  malar patch and their throats are unstreaked. The heavy streaking is concentrated on the upper breast, forming an inverted “V” centrally and continuing along the flanks. The wings are dark grey-brown to blackish-brown and the upperwing-coverts and tertials show buff tips and edges. The Oriental Skylark is light rufous-buff below and shows an emphazied rusty-buff on the breast. The pale horn-coloured bill with a pale lower mandible and slightly darker upper mandible and the pale pinkish legs are shared with its sister species. Literature emphasize the differences from the Eurasian Skylark by smaller size, shorter primary projection and tail, proportionately longer and more pointed bill, more buffish outer tail feathers and the distinct missing of a white trailing edge of the wing in flight.

At first hand in the field, Oriental Skylark resembles Skylark in coloration, but Woodlark (Lullula arborea) in shape and flight. Its pointed bill is relatively long and thick, and it has a shortish tail and relatively long legs. In the short-grassed field in Bundala NP, at all times the single most striking feature was how  short-tailed, how Woodlark-like, all these birds looked on the ground.  From a distance, the bird might even be confused with Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla), Lesser Short-toed Lark (Calandrella rufescens) or with the local female Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark (Eremopterix griseus).

Unlike in Eurasian Skylark, which have a white belly, all the Oriental Skylark present in Bundala NP showed underparts which were washed through with buff. The primary projection looked short and their legs looked clean pale pink and quite long.  This longer leg length was especially obvious as, unlike Eurasian Skylark which often crouch, the birds often stood ‘upright’ with a posture somewhat suggesting Richard’s Pipit (Anthus richardi)  – though with the tail falling far short of the ground. Oriental Skylark look head-heavy. The short ‘back end’ likely contributes to their big-headed look. This is accentuated by their and heavy, long and pointed bill and the full crest (when raised) which is similar to that of the Eurasian Skylark.

The habitat of the Oriental Skylarks is described as seasonally dried, open habitats whereas the Eurasian Skylark lives more typical in extensive temperate grasslands, with long grasses. An open habitat with short vegetation near saline coastal marshes and mudflats with Tamarix and Haloxylon bushes is the perfect description of the main habitat in Bundala NP.

We did not see Oriental Skylarks in flight, But literature explains that Oriental Skylark’s wings seem short and rounded and its tail also looks rather short. Birds in song-flight or in normal flight held the tails tightly closed –unlike Eurasian Skylark which often holds the tail open. The pale trailing edge to the wing is sandy or rusty in colour, and is less noticeable than and clearly different from the contrasting white trailing edge of Skylark, In flight, the Oriental Skylark looks quite broad-winged and short-tailed – strikingly unlike the Eurasian Skylark.  This distinctive profile really should be obvious to any experienced birder. The open upperwing of the Oriental Skylark also looks strikingly different to that of the more westerly-distributed larks, with a paler forewing and a band of plain rufous across the greater wing coverts and plain-looking flight feathers, showing more contrast even though they effectively lack the fairly broad white or the narrow off-white trail of an Eurasian Skylark.

The flight action of Oriental is described as very slow, and it tends to hover and flutter its wings when low over a field. The flight silhouette is rather like that of Woodlark. At a higher altitude, its flight is faster and recalls that of a Greater Short-toed Lark or an Eurasian Skylark.

The Oriental Skylark’s voice is totally different in character from that of Eurasian Skylark and the Woodlark. The calls could be transcribed as ‘baz, baz’ or ‘baz-terrr’. The notes being a staccato with a reminiscent of the calls of Richard’s Pipit.

To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of the Palearctic Bird-Lens is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds you can find in the western palearctic.  Trips to remote places like this one to capture images not only of rare birds of western palearctic were very successful. The nice image of the blog is only a first impression, what you will find in the gallery in the “Picture Shop” very soon. Just give bird-lens.com a message, if bird-lens.com could serve you with an image needed before the new pictures are online.

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