Lark Bunting (Calamospiza melanocorys)
Associated Species: Other species that may use habitat in a similar way and/or respond similarly
to threats, management, and conservation activities include Chestnut-collared Longspur and Western Meadowlark.
Distribution: Lark Buntings breed throughout the Great Plains region, from southern Alberta
east to southwestern Manitoba, south through the Texas panhandle, and west to eastern New
Mexico. In Colorado, they breed on the eastern plains, with smaller numbers breeding in
northwestern Colorado, North Park, the San Luis Valley, and scattered grassland basins in
Habitat Requirements: These birds breed in open grasslands with a mixture of short to tall
grasses and scattered shrubs, also sagebrush steppe. They prefer total vegetative cover of
70-90%, with 60-70% shortgrass cover, 5-15% sedge and forb cover, and 10-15% bare ground;
shrubs and taller grass and forbs (necessary for shading nests) should total 10-30% (Finch et al.
Ecology: Birds arrive on the eastern plains in late April-early May, with nesting initiated during
mid May to June and young fledged during June and July. Migration from Colorado to the winter
grounds occurs by late September although some birds may overwinter; they winter in the
southern U.S. and Mexico. They feed on grasshoppers and other invertebrates and on grass and
Management Issues and Conservation Recommendations: Heavy grazing renders shortgrass
habitats unsuitable by increasing the percentage of bare ground, and removing grass cover needed
by invertebrate prey (especially grasshoppers) and taller vegetation needed for nest shading.
Graze lightly in summer or heavily in winter to maintain the preferred vegetation structure.
Retain shrubs, cacti, and other tall vegetation.
Grasshopper control is detrimental, given the species' dependence on grasshoppers and other
invertebrate prey. Adopt Integrated Pest Management practices to retain some populations of
the prey species.
Status and Reasons for Concern: This species has a high conservation need locally and
throughout its range. This species is on the national Watch List, indicating a high conservation
need throughout its range. This is the Colorado state bird, making it a good flagship species for
conservation action. A very high proportion (estimated at 28.8%) of this species' total population
occurs within this physiographic area, indicating that this area has high responsibility for the
species' conservation. Within the Central Shortgrass Prairie, BBS data show a statistically
significant annual rate of decline between 1966 and 1996 (-1.7%; P = 0.01; n = 62 routes). Data
for Colorado for the same period show a similar trend (-1.9%; P = 0.01; n = 43 routes). Lark
Buntings were present on an average of 85.27% (SE = 2.05) of the BBS routes run in
Physiographic Area 36 in Colorado during 1988-1997, at an average abundance of 129.91 (SE =
15.80) individuals per route. The mean number of routes run each year was 29.2 (SE = 2.28).
This species is monitored by MCB with point transects.
Biological Objective: Increase the species' distribution and abundance, based upon results of the
BBS and MCB monitoring programs.
Selected References: Andrews and Righter 1992, Creighton 1974, Finch et al. 1987, Kingery
1998, Wiens 1970.