SHORE LARK (Eremophila alpestris)


Once a rare breeding bird in the northern reaches of Scotland, the shore lark is now only seen as a passage migrant or a scarce winter visitor. The numbers vary from year to year, ranging from a few individuals to hundreds. As the name suggests, those that spend the winter here tend to favour shores along the east coast, which can resemble their breeding grounds on cold, windy days. Their mottled brown plumage can be hard to spot in coastal habitats but their stunning facial markings make them stand out.

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Alert Status:

Alert Status: Amber

Estimated number of UK breeding

Estimated number of winter visitors: 110 (2012-2017)

Listen to Shore Lark song:


Shore Lark’s mottled brown upperparts and white underparts help them blend in with their chosen habitats however, their distinctive facial markings make them stand out. Their yellow faces with black cheeks and throats and black ‘horns’ are unlike that of any other UK lark.

Average Length: 14 -17 cm

Average Lifespan: 3 years

Average Wingspan: 30-35 cm

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Shore Lark diet

During the breeding season, Shore Larks feed mainly on small invertebrates but while on our shores during the winter they mainly eat small seeds. It can be seen in small feeding flocks along the coasts but is unlikely to appear in gardens.

Shore Lark Breeding and nesting information

Shore Larks do not breed in the UK, instead, they return to their high arctic breeding grounds. The start of the breeding season varies around the world from February to June, but the female builds a nest in a depression in the ground which helps shelter them from the arctic winds. Usually, 2-5 eggs are laid in the nest which are incubated by the female. After hatching the chicks are fed by both parents for 9-12 days before they can leave the nest.

Threats to Shore Larks

Annual variation in the population makes tracking changes difficult but there is evidence that the number of winter visitors has declined while populations have increased in some breeding grounds. In its European breeding grounds, declines are thought to be driven by overgrazing by reindeer which can reduce suitable nesting sites.  Changes in agricultural practices are also thought to be significant, including the increased use of pesticides which reduces their favoured insect prey and potentially causes direct poisoning.

How you can help

Visit and help coastal reserves, such as Holkham Nature Reserve in Norfolk, which work to protect these habitats.

Petition to reduce the use of pesticides in coastal farms and land.

Fascinating Fact

The Shore Lark is also known by a somewhat more descriptive name, the Horned Lark, due to their visible black ‘horns’.
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BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Eremophila alpestris. Downloaded from Accessed: 02/11/2023.

British Trust for Ornithology (2023) Shore lark | BTO. Available at: Accessed:02/11/2023.  

Byrkjedal, I., & Högstedt, G. (2022). Numbers of Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris) are increasing at high alpine and arctic breeding sites in Norway. Ornis Norvegica, 45, 10–15.  

Eaton, M. A., Brown, A. F., Noble, D. G., Musgrove, A. J., Hearn, R. D., Aebischer, N. J., Gibbons, D. W., Evans, A., Gregory, R. D., Skua, A., Parasiticus, S., & Harris, A. (2009). The population status of birds in the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man. British Birds, 102(6),  

RSPB (2023) Shore Lark, RSPB. Available at: Accessed: 02/11/2023.  

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