SPECIES

Sand Lark Alaudala raytal Scientific name definitions

Prasad Ganpule and Per Alström
Version: 2.0 — Published May 7, 2022

Identification

Field Identification

The Sand Lark is a small lark with stocky body, relatively short tail, distinct primary projection, and comparatively long, slender bill (especially in subspecies raytal); it frequently raises a small crest, especially when displaying. It is further characterized by pale plumage with thin dark streaking above and variously well marked dark streaks on the breast. The sexes are similar in plumage, but males average slightly larger than females, and the size difference can be conspicuous when pairs are seen together. In some instances when pairs have been seen together, the female had darker brown ear coverts and a subtly smaller bill than the male (1). Birds in active molt and in worn plumage look somewhat different from birds in fresh plumage. See Molts.

Similar Species

The Sand Lark is extremely similar to the Turkestan Short-toed Lark (Alaudala heinei) and the Asian Short-toed Lark (Alaudala cheleensis), and may not be safely separable in the field from these two species unless close views, from different angles, are obtained. Sand Lark is only encountered infrequently together with Turkestan Short-toed Lark in the non-breeding season, when Turkestan Short-toed Lark moves away from its breeding grounds, and it is doubtful if it is ever found together with the mainly resident or short-distance migrant Asian Short-toed Lark. However, where these species occur together, the separation of Sand Lark of the subspecies adamsi from Turkestan Short-toed Lark presents a serious identification challenge, with Sand Lark frequently misidentified as Turkestan / Asian Short-toed Lark (1). While Sand Lark's nominate subspecies (​​​​​​raytal) usually has a long, thin, slightly decurved bill (see Geographic Variation), which helps to differentiate it from the Turkestan Short-toed Lark and Asian Short-toed Lark, there is no single diagnostic feature that can separate Sand Lark of the subspecies adamsi from Turkestan Short-toed Lark and Asian Short-toed Lark. The following features are useful in separation of Sand Lark of the subspecies adamsi from Turkestan Short-toed Lark and Asian Short-toed Lark (1).

Size and Structure

Sand Lark is smaller than Turkestan Short-toed Lark and Asian Short-toed Lark (2), and when seen together, the size difference is apparent.

Sand Lark has a stocky body with a short tail, while Turkestan Short-toed Lark and, especially, Asian Short-toed Lark have proportionately longer tail (2). Profile photographs, or views where the length of the tail can be judged are useful for identification.

Sand Lark usually shows a proportionately longer (2) and more slender bill, especially the lower mandible is thinner, while Turkestan Short-toed Lark and Asian Short-toed Lark show a deeper based, thicker bill. This feature may not be of use in some cases as bill shape in Sand Lark is variable and it can be quite similar to bill shape of Turkestan Short-toed Lark and Asian Short-toed Lark.

Sand Lark usually shows a shorter primary projection than in Turkestan Short-toed Lark and Asian Short-toed Lark (especially compared to the former), with 2–3 visible primary tips. However, in worn plumage or rarely in some individuals in fresh plumage, Sand Lark can show 4 exposed primary tips. Thus, while the primary projection is usually considerably longer in especially Turkestan Short-toed Lark, this feature is not diagnostic since Sand Lark can sometimes show a rather long primary projection.

Plumage

Sand Lark is grayish or pale sandy above, while Turkestan Short-toed Lark and Asian Short-toed Lark are more warmly coloured above and often show pale rufous tones to the plumage. Vaurie (1951) stated that adamsi can show a vinous tinge above (3), which can appear similar to the plumage of Turkestan Short-toed Lark and Asian Short-toed Lark. Sand Lark is usually more weakly streaked above than Turkestan Short-toed Lark and Asian Short-toed Lark, but the streaking can be similar to Turkestan Short-toed Lark and Asian Short-toed Lark, especially in Sand Larks of the subspecies krishnakumarsinhji (see Geographic Variation).

Sand Lark can also be confused with Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla), Mongolian Short-toed Lark (Calandrella dukhunensis) and Hume's Lark (Calandrella acutirostris). The Sand Lark's stocky body, short tail, obvious primary projection, bill shape (especially in subspecies raytal), and streaked breast without distinct darker neck/breast-side patches are features useful in separating Sand Lark from the three Calandrella species (4). Rarely, the Sand Lark may show an indistinct dark patch on its neck-side, somewhat similar to a poorly marked Calandrella lark, but the typical structure, along with distinct primary projection are helpful in identification (1).

Sand Lark's compact build also bears a superficial resemblance to the female Black-crowned Sparrow-Lark (Eremopterix nigriceps) and the female Ashy-crowned Sparrow-Lark (Eremopterix griseus), but the different bill shape, streaking on breast, obvious primary projection, and head and wing pattern in Sand Lark are helpful in separating it from these species.

Additionally, Sand Lark can look similar to Crested Lark (Galerida cristata), but Sand Lark is smaller, with a smaller bill and less prominent crest.

Recommended Citation

Ganpule, P. and P. Alström (2022). Sand Lark (Alaudala raytal), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (N. D. Sly, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.sanlar1.02