Story: Introduced land birds
Page 10 – Skylarks
The skylark (Alauda arvensis) is a northern-hemisphere species, breeding in Europe and North Africa, and across Asia to China, and migrating south to India and North Africa.
Introduction and distribution
British immigrants had a sentimental attachment to skylarks, and from 1864 introduced many to New Zealand. They became common throughout the country, and are most prominent in sand dunes, open farmland and tussock grasslands.
By the early 20th century skylarks were considered second only to sparrows in causing damage to crops – pecking newly-sown seeds and pulling up sprouting wheat and other germinating plants. They became less of a problem when pastoral farming became more dominant, replacing grain cropping.
Skylarks are dark brown streaked with yellow-brown, with a white underbelly. When alert, they raise a small head crest. They weigh about 38 grams and are 18 centimetres in long.
A male skylark has a distinctive territorial display through spring and summer. He climbs steeply up to 100 metres, then hovers above his territory, trilling for minutes at a stretch, and descending in stages.
Skylarks nest in small depressions in the ground, sheltered by overhanging grasses. The birds line the nest with grass. The female lays three or four greyish-white or cream eggs, which she incubates. Both parents feed the hatchlings.