The Streaked Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris strigata) is small, ground-dwelling songbird with conspicuous feather tufts, or "horns," on its head. Its back is heavily streaked with black, contrasting sharply with its deeply ruddy nape and yellow underparts.

photo by Dennis Paulson

 

photo by Dennis Paulson

It formerly was a common nesting species in grasslands and prairies west of the Cascade Mountains from southern British Columbia, through Washington and Oregon. It was so abundant around Puget Sound as to be a nuisance to turn-of-the-century golfers. The destruction of 95% of native grasslands on the west coast, however, caused cataclysmic population declines. The streaked horned lark was likely extirpated from British Columbia in 1990. Though common around Puget Sound up to the 1950's, it is now extirpated from the San Juan Islands. A total about 100 pairs remain divided between south Puget Sound and islands near the mouth of the Columbia River. In the 1920's the streaked horned lark was considered one of Oregon's "characteristics birds" and was fairly common up to the 1970's. It is now extirpated from the Umpqua and Roque valleys and occurs only in scattered sites in the Willamette Valley. The states entire population is about 200 pairs.

The greatest threat to the streaked horned lark's survival is the dramatic loss of native grasslands. They are perhaps the most endangered habitat type on the west coast of North America. Puget Sound lowland prairies have been reduced from 150,000 to just 4,000 acres- a 97% reduction. Willamette Valley grasslands have been reduced to one-tenth of one percent of their historical extent. The loss has been caused by agricultural expansion, livestock grazing, urban and suburban sprawl, and fire suppression.

On December 10, 2002 the Center For Biological Diversity, Xerces Society, Oregon Natural Resources Council, Friends of the San Juan's, and Northwest Ecosystem Alliance filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to protect the streaked horned lark under the Endangered Species Act. Listing under the ESA will require protection of specific grasslands, prairies, and woodlands as "critical habitat" for the lark and the development of federal recovery plan. It will ensure that federal agencies act to save the lark while encouraging state and private interests to participate as well.

graphic Andrew Rodman ©2002
October 7, 2005
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