Saturday, June 1, 2013

Lark Bunting

At the recent South Dakota Ornithologists’ Union meeting, John and I elected to more or less accompany a field trip heading west of the Missouri River. Our goal was to try to find western birds that we could not easily see at home in Minnesota. As I explained in my last post, at least in South Dakota, the river separates eastern and western avifaunas of the United States. This is not a strict rule, however, because birds have unique ranges and because distributions are not static. For example, 20 years ago Lark Buntings bred at least to the Aberdeen area; this year John and I did not see them until we were west of the river. (Lark Buntings are considered to be casual in Minnesota.)

Lark Buntings are among the six songbirds endemic to North America’s grasslands (Shane 2000). Unlike almost all other sparrows, the male is drab in the winter but molts into a striking breeding plumage. This Lark Bunting, photographed near Timber Lake, South Dakota, is probably in its  second year, since the bird has retained its warn, brownish tail feathers, left over from its first winter plumage. I wrote about this species last January.

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