Asian Short-toed Lark Alaudala cheleensis Scientific name definitions

Per Alström, Sundev Gombobaatar, and Paul F. Donald
Version: 2.0 — Published October 24, 2023


Systematics History

The taxonomy of the species in the genus Alaudala (which was previously part of Calandrella, see below) has been debated for many years, with no consensus among different authors and much conflict among different treatments (see 2, 1 for summaries). The Asian Short-toed Lark has previously been treated as conspecific with the Mediterranean Short-toed Lark (Alaudala rufescens) and the Turkestan Short-toed Lark (Alaudala heinei), under the name Lesser Short-toed Lark (A. rufescens or, earlier, Calandrella rufescens). The Asian Short-toed Lark has also been treated as a separate species (e.g., 3, 4), although the circumscription of this species has differed among authors, and two of the taxa currently treated as subspecies of Turkestan Short-toed Lark (A. h. aharonii, referred to as Calandrella cheleensis niethammeri, and A. h. persica) have been placed within this species (5). The Sand Lark (Alaudala raytal) was believed to be closely related to, or even conspecific with, these (6), and it has recently been confirmed to be nested within this complex based on analyses of DNA (7, 1). A study of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA, plumage, structure, song, other behaviors, and habitat, identified four distinct lineages within this complex, and proposed that these should be treated as four different species (1). The divergence times among these were estimated at 1.8–3.2 million years, and wide or probable sympatry was noted in three different regions. In Kazakhstan, the Asian Short-toed Lark of the subspecies leucophaea and Turkestan Short-toed Lark of the subspecies heinei are probably broadly sympatric, but at least partly segregated by habitat (8, 9), and in southern Mongolia, the Asian Short-toed Lark of the subspecies cheleensis and the Turkestan Short-toed Lark of the subspecies heinei are probably at least marginally sympatric, with slightly different habitat preferences (1). Both molecular studies (7, 1) refuted the suggestions that the taxa niethammeri (synonym of aharonii; 10) and persica belong to the Asian Short-toed Lark, as has been suggested (5).

Two of the phylogenetic studies found that the eastern ("cheleensis clade") and western ("leucophaea clade") subspecies groups of Asian Short-toed Lark differ in some aspects (e.g., more than 2 million years of divergence in mitochondrial DNA), although they are much less divergent in nuclear DNA (7,1). These studies referred to the west Chinese population, which was part of the "leucophaea clade", as kukunoorensis. However, samples from the type area of kukunoorensis (Koko Nor = Qinghai Lake, Qinghai Province, China) were found in the cheleensis clade, so the name seebohmi (type area "Central Asia from Yarkand and Kashgar to Mongolia"), which was considered to be a synonym of kukunoorensis in these studies, should be applied to the west Chinese population.

The taxon tuvinica from the Tuva Republic and adjacent parts of northwestern Mongolia is tentatively recognized. The names kukunoorensis, tangutica, stegmanni, and beicki from the northeastern part of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and obscura from Transbaicalia are considered to be synonyms of cheleensis.

In the past, the name Calandrella pispoletta has been used in the Russian literature for the Mediterranean Short-toed Lark and Turkestan Short-toed Lark and part of Asian Short-toed Lark (e.g., 11).

All of the species in the genus Alaudala were previously placed in the genus Calandrella. However, the genus Alaudala was reinstated based on a molecular phylogeny (12), which found the Asian Short-toed Lark, Sand Lark and Somali Short-toed Lark (Alaudala somalica) to be more closely related to Dupont's Lark (Chersophilus duponti) and Dunn's Lark (Eremalauda dunni) (actually to the Arabian Lark (Eremalauda eremodites), which was at the time treated as conspecific with Dunn's Lark), and the Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla), Red-capped Lark (Calandrella cinerea) and Hume's Lark (Calandrella acutirostris) to be more closely related to the Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris). A more recent phylogenetic study based on genomic data (13) instead suggested that Alaudala is sister to a clade comprising Chersophilus, Eremalauda and Melanocorypha (while confirming the sister relationship between Calandrella and Eremophila).

Geographic Variation

The geographical variation involves mainly color shades and strength of streaking above and below. However, the variation is not clearcut, and the differences between fresh and worn birds of the same subspecies can be greater than the differences between different subspecies.


Four subspecies are recognized herein.


Alaudala cheleensis leucophaea Scientific name definitions

Systematics History

Calandrella leucophaea Severzov, 1872. Izvestiia Imperatorskago Obschchestva Liubitelei Estestvoznaniia, Antropologii i Etnografii, Moskva, 8, 1873, pt. 2, p. 1421 —Type locality "Turkestan"; restricted to the lower Emba River, west Kazakhstan by Meinertzhagen (Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 121, 1951, p. 98).


Western and southern Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. The range might have contracted in the east. Resident.

Identification Summary

Very pale grayish above and whitish below. Faintly streaked above and below.


Alaudala cheleensis seebohmi Scientific name definitions

Systematics History

Alaudula seebohmi Sharpe, 1890, Catalogue of the Birds in the British Museum, 13, p. 590 —Type locality "Central Asia from Yarkand and Kashgar to Mongolia". Syntype in The Natural History Museum, Tring, UK, specimen registration number 1890.1.29.189 (collected in "Mongolia"; several other syntypes in the collection).


Northwest China (Xinjiang Prsovince) and adjacent parts of Mongolia.

Identification Summary

Very similar to leucophaea, but when fresh, it is more rufous-tinged above and more buffish below, especially on the breast.


Alaudala cheleensis tuvinica Scientific name definitions

Systematics History

Calandrella cheleensis tuvinica Stepanyan, 1976. Ornitologiya 12, 246-247. —Type area from the depression in the southern Tuvinskaya region in Russia south of Tannu Ola and west of Nagor'ye Sangilen.


Southern Siberia (Tuva Republic) and adjacent parts of northwestern Mongolia.

Identification Summary

Somewhat intermediate between leucophaea and seebohmi. Perhaps better synonymized with seebohmi or cheleensis, or an intergrade between them, but here tentatively recognized.


Alaudala cheleensis cheleensis Scientific name definitions

Systematics History

Alaudula cheleënsis Swinhoe, 1871. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London Part 2, p. 390. —Type locality Talien Bay, near Port Arthur (=Lüshunkou District, Liaoning), China. Syntype in The Natural History Museum, Tring, UK, specimen registration number NHMUK 1890.1.29.194 ("several more syntypes in the collection, but not separated yet as such"; Hein van Grouw in litt.).


Alaudula kukunoorensis Przewalski, 1876, Mongol i Strana Tangut, 2, p. 105. —Type locality "Koko Nor" (Qinghai Hu, QInghai Province, China).

Calandrella rufescens tangutica Tugarinov, 1933 (ms. Hartert and Steinbacher). Die Vögel der paläarktischen Fauna, Erganzungsband, Heft 2, p. 108. —Type locality "northeast Tibet".

Calandrella rufescens stegmanni Meise, 1937. Journal für Ornithologie, 85, p. 491. —Type locality "easterly from Sian-wan" (Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, China).

Calandrella rufescens beicki Meise, 1933. Ornitologische Monatsberichte, 41, p. 81 —Type locality "Sintien-pu, north of Sining, northern Tsinghai" (north of Xining, Qinghai Province, China).

Pseudalaudula pispoletta obscura Tugarinov, 1932. Ptitsy Wostofchnoi Mongolii, p. 29. —Type locality Solovievsk, Mongolian-Russian border.


Northeast China (northeastern Qinghai, eastern Gansu, Ningxia, Shaanxi, Shanxi, central and eastern Inner Mongolia, Hebei, Beijing, Liaoning, Jilin, Heilongjiang) and northern Mongolia and adjacent parts of southern Siberia. Western limit uncertain, and apparently intergrades with seebohmi. The Mongolian populations are largely migratory, although they probably winter within the range of the subspecies.

Identification Summary

Slightly darker, browner and more heavily streaked above and below than seebohmi.

Related Species

The Asian Short-toed Lark forms a clade with Mediterranean Short-toed Lark (Alaudala rufescens), Turkestan Short-toed Lark, and Sand Lark, although the precise relationships among these are somewhat uncertain (1).

See Systematics History for further detail.


Not known to have hybridized with any other species.

Fossil History

Information needed.

Recommended Citation

Alström, P., S. Gombobaatar, and P. F. Donald (2023). Asian Short-toed Lark (Alaudala cheleensis), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (P. G. Rodewald and B. K. Keeney, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.
Birds of the World


A global alliance of nature organizations working to document the natural history of all bird species at an unprecedented scale.