The horned lark decorates fields and short grassy lands on late March mornings, providing a subtle cue that winter wanes. With a yellow face, a black mask, and horn-like feathers that stick straight up, these birds provide solace through a March snowstorm, singing all the while (listen to the horned lark's song and calls here). Horned larks are common continent-wide, from central Mexico to the upper reaches of Canada and Alaska. In Wisconsin, the birds can frequently be found in farm fields and open areas with little vegetation.
These birds, a pleasant sight throughout their winter spent in Wisconsin, can light up a snow field with their yellow faces contrasting against the glistening white. When the snow melts, however, their brown dirt-colored feathers camouflage well into the forty of a farm field—you'll have to watch for that flash of yellow as you scan a field.
Nests come surprisingly early, and nests with eggs can be found in late March. Even by mid-March, however, most birders have seen migrating flocks of geese and ducks, cranes and blackbirds—wanderlust sets in.
It's easy to forget the horned lark, a diminutive bird nesting in the dull habitat of farm fields. Despite the delight this bird brings in winter, it is soon passed over for bigger and smaller and better birds come spring. This is a shame, for it is the only lark native to North America and its twinkling jingle of a song reminds us of a winter that was and is a sure sign that eggs are on the way—eggs that better be quick because the field must be planted eventually.
You can spot horned larks at Faville Grove down Prairie Lane in farm fields and recently burned prairies. It's beautiful down by the Crawfish River right now with migrating Canada and white-fronted geese, sandhill cranes, and ducks. The visual spectacle—fabulous in its own right—dwindles in comparison to the auditory riot it creates on these March wetlands. Again, it's easy to bypass the horned lark for these bigger and more attention-grabbing scenes, but appreciate its faithful residence on Wisconsin corn stubble and a life that's easily overlooked .
Written by Drew Harry, Faville Grove Sanctuary land steward
Banner photo by Jeff Bryant