SPECIES

Sand Lark Alaudala raytal Scientific name definitions

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

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

Introduction

Sand Lark is known for being vocal in the breeding season, giving songs in high flight, low flight and when displaying on the ground. It utters calls while feeding and foraging as well as in flight, and its presence in any area is usually ascertained by hearing its call or song.

Vocalizations

Development

No information.

Vocal Array

As in the three other Eurasian Alaudala species, the Sand Lark has two main types of song, one given in a high song-flight and one given in a low song-flight or during the ascent to high song-flight or from the ground. The high-flight song consists of rather short, dry, rattling, slightly “undulating” strophes interspersed with fairly long (often 10 seconds or more) pauses. When singing from the ground and in low flight (or during ascent to high song flight), sings with continuous flow of call notes (both dry rattling and drawn-out whistled notes), single elements or complete strophes of the high song-flight type and some mimicry . This song type can vary considerably in speed of delivery, and it often gets “hung up” on repetitions of drawn-out whistles or churring call notes; pauses, if any, are irregularly interspersed.

The Sand Lark is known to mimic birds in its habitat like the Red-wattled Lapwing (Vanellus indicus), House Sparrow (Passer domesticus), Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus), Green Bee-eater (Merops orientalis), Rufous-fronted Prinia (Prinia buchanani), and many other species (9, 41).

Both song types are very similar to the corresponding songs of Turkestan Short-toed Lark (Alaudala heinei), Asian Short-toed Lark (Alaudala cheleensis) and Mediterranean Short-toed Lark (Alaudala rufescens). See Alström et al. (2013) (30) for details and sonograms.

The Sand Lark is very vocal during its courtship display, and many of its songs are countersung by other males. Three or four males can be seen singing simultaneously in high flight during the onset of the breeding season (PG). Males are more vocal during this period than females. In Gujarat, northwestern India, Sand Larks start singing and engaging in courtship from March onwards.

Calls with various low-pitched rolling chirr, cherr, chirr-de or similar . Also also gives high-pitched, “impure”, slightly descending drawn-out whistles . The calls are very similar to those of Turkestan Short-toed Lark, Asian Short-toed Lark and Mediterranean Short-toed Lark.

Geographic Variation

Not well studied. Alström et al. (2021) (2) noted that the high-flight song of raytal includes fewer musical notes than adamsi , although remarked that the sample sizes were too low to evaluate this properly. No thorough analysis of the geographical variation in song or calls has been undertaken, and this is much warranted.

Phenology

The Sand Lark is very vocal at the start of the breeding season during courtship. In Gujarat, India, courtship begins in March, and courtship displays are seen until September. In other parts of its range (especially for subspecies raytal in eastern India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar), courtship and breeding season is earlier: from February to May. In western India, the breeding season starts at the beginning of the summer and lasts well into the monsoon season. The high-flight songs and low-flight songs and songs from the ground are common during the courtship period. Once nesting starts, the Sand Lark is not very vocal and utters calls or single notes of songs (PG). The frequency of vocalizations decreases with the progression of nesting. In the non-breeding season, calls are more frequent when foraging, and also in flight.

Daily Pattern of Vocalizing

During courtship and the start of the breeding season, Sand Larks are very vocal early in the morning and late in the evening. In Gujarat, since the breeding season occurs in the summer, temperatures can be as high as 47° C. So, in the afternoon heat, Sand Larks vocalize less than they do in the morning and evening. The Sand Lark does not vocalize at night. In the non-breeding season, the Sand Lark vocalizes mainly during feeding and foraging in the morning and evening, as well as in flight at any time of the day.

Places of Vocalizing

The high and low-flight songs are given in the air (see Repertoire and Delivery of Songs). At least in Gujarat, India, sometimes alights on electric transmission wires after singing in flight, after vocalizing and after a short pause, rising into the air again to display and vocalize (PG). The song uttered on the ground is either given from the flat ground or from a slightly elevated perch, such as a stone.

Sex Differences

The song is given by the male. It is not known whether the female may also sing occasionally, although there are indications that perhaps the low-flight song can be given by both sexes during distress. Calls are given by both the male and the female (PG). Both sexes may call when feeding and foraging, as well as in direct flights.

Repertoire and Delivery of Songs

Each male has a large repertoire of song strophes that are alternated between during the high-flight song. No study has been undertaken of the low-flight or perched song, but that appears to be extremely variable between songs of the same individual.

The high song-flight has not been studied in detail, but it has been noted that the male glides briefly on extended wings while delivering the song. The bird thereafter parachutes to the ground in a succession of five to ten steps, wings and tail stiffly open, hovering momentarily at each step. In the final descent, shoots down vertically with closed wings, flattening out when within a metre or so of the ground to settle lightly on a clod or stone (9). During the low song-flight, the bird flies in irregular loops with slow, jerky, “rowing” wing-beats and partly fanned tail and often raised crest, while singing.

Social Context and Presumed Functions of Vocalizations

In the courtship period, the song is uttered by the male to attract a female partner. Many times, more than one male is observed to be singing or displaying in front of a female. Frequently, songs are countersung by two or more males. The song probably also functions in territory defense against other males.

Calls are used to communicate between individuals, such as between mates, between parents and offspring (e.g., alarm calls near nest) and among members in a non-breeding flock (e.g., warning of approach of predators) or contact calls. It has been observed that when a flock suddenly flies off during feeding on close approach of humans or feral dogs, they utter the calls in flight (PG).

Confusion Species

The high-flight song is easily separable from the song of the sympatric Oriental Skylark (Alauda gulgula) by the arrangement into short strophes and distinct pauses, and the voice is clearly different from that of the Oriental Skylark. The voice and more irregular flow of notes, with churring and drawn-out whistled notes, also easily separate the low-flight song from the song of Oriental Skylark. It is easily distinguished from the song of Crested Lark (Galerida cristata), whose flight song is also divided into strophes separated by silent pauses, by the faster pace, and more scratchy, less piping voice. The same differences apply during the low-flight song and song given while perched.

Nonvocal Sounds

No information available.

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