SKYLARK (Alauda arvensis)


Skylarks are a quintessential feature of our farmland and males can be seen flying vertically upwards and singing from great heights (up to 300m!) before descending back down. Represented in a range of musical and literary works, this bird is familiar to many of us, even if we haven’t seen one. In the summer months, the males’ song fills farmland and grassland habitats, whilst in the winter large feeding flocks gather. While the population is large, the skylark is one of the most rapidly declining birds which has led to it being red-listed.

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Alert Status:

Red - 18% decrease ↓

Estimated number of UK breeding

pairs: 1.6 million (updated 2016)

Listen to skylark song:


Skylarks have streaky brown upperparts, dark brown forked tails, and brown heads with pale buff eyebrows and big dark eyes. The most recognisable feature is the brown crest on the top of their head. They have light brown breasts, pale buff belly and throat. It is larger than the woodlark with a longer tail. Males and females look the same but males are slightly larger.

Average Length: 18-19 cm

Average Lifespan: 2 Years

Average Wingspan: 30-36 cm

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Skylark diet

Skylarks mainly eat invertebrates such as worms but will also eat seeds and grain. They are usually seen foraging on farmland or grassland but will sometimes catch insects in the air.

Skylark breeding and nesting information

Skylarks begin breeding in late March, they are monogamous but the nest is built by the female. The nest is a depression in the ground among short vegetation lined with thick layers of grass. In this nest, 3-4 are laid and incubated by the female alone for 12-14 days while the male defends the territory by singing and flying above. Once the eggs hatch the young are fed by both parents for 11-15 days before they leave the nest and are looked after for another 10 days until they can fly. They can produce up to 4 broods before the breeding season ends in September.

Threats to skylarks

As skylarks are common on farmland, the main threat to skylarks is the changing and intensification of agriculture. Changes in crops have led to decreases in their preferred crops and increases in crops that create unsuitable habitats, such as winter cereals and heavily grazed grassland. The change from spring sowing the autumn sowing has also decreased the opportunities for producing multiple broods which exacerbates any nest failures from disturbance or predation. Furthermore, the increased use of pesticides and weed killers has decreased the available food for this bird. Finally, grazing of grassland habitats and direct disturbance or predation from increased raptor populations have decreased nest success.

How you can help

Create an insect-friendly garden and avoid using any harsh chemicals.

Be careful not to damage nests during the breeding season and keep dogs on leads to avoid accidental damage.

If you own farmland try not to disturb nesting birds on your land.

Fascinating Fact

The skylark’s performance is incredibly complex with some song variations containing 460 syllables and flight performances lasting up to an hour.
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BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Alauda arvensis. Downloaded from Accessed: 28/09/2023.

British Trust for Ornithology (2023) Skylark | BTO - British trust for Ornithology. Available at: Accessed: 28/09/2023.

Chamberlain, D. E., & Siriwardena, G. M. (2011). The effects of agricultural intensification on Skylarks(Alauda arvensis): Evidence from monitoring studies in Great Britain. Environmental Reviews, 8(2), 95–113.  

Donald, P. F., Evans, A. D., Buckingham, D. L., Muirhead, L. B., & Wilson, J. D. (2001). Factors affecting the territory distribution of skylarks alauda arvensis breeding on lowland farmland. Bird Study, 48(3), 271–278.  

Morris, A. J., Holland, J. M., Smith, B., & Jones, N. E. (2004). Sustainable Arable Farming for an Improved Environment (SAFFIE): Managing winter wheat sward structure for Skylarks Alauda arvensis. Ibis, 146(S2), 155–162.

RSPB (2023) Skylark bird facts: Alauda Arvensis, The RSPB. Available at: Accessed: 28/09/2023.

Topping, C. J., & Odderskær, P. (2004). Modeling the influence of temporal and spatial factors on the assessment of impacts of pesticides on skylarks. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, 23(2), 509–520.

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