Sand Lark Alaudala raytal Scientific name definitions

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


Systematics History

Alauda raytal ‘Buch. Hamilton, MS’ Blyth 1845 [type locality = Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India] Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal 13 p. 962

Alauda adamsi Hume 1871 [type locality = Murdan, Pakistan] Ibis 13 p. 405

Calandrella raytal krishnakumarsinhji Vaurie and Dharmakumarsinhji 1954 [type locality= Bhavnagar, Gujarat, India] Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 52 p. 8. This subspecies is recognized by some authors (13, 14), but is perhaps better treated as a plumage variant (morph) of the subspecies adamsi (see Geographic Variation).

The original description of Sand Lark subspecies raytal was possibly written by Edward Blyth based on a specimen he kept, or the description and specimen belonged to Buchanan Hamilton. The description has Blyth's form and style, so his authorship is more likely, while perhaps just the name was drawn from Hamilton (15). Sand Lark was initially placed in Alauda, a genus introduced by Linnaeus in 1758. Hume (1871) (16) placed adamsi in the genus Alauda.

The type locality for the subspecies adamsi is incorrectly identified in most works as Agrore Valley (or Agore Valley), Hazara District (now in Pakistan) (17, 9). Hume's original description from 1871 (16) implies that the locality in Agrore Valley (or Agore Valley) refers to the description of Caprimulgus unwini and does not apply to adamsi (18). Hume (16) wrote that the adamsi specimen was collected ‘from Murdan’. This locality is now known as Mardan [34° 19’ N, 71° 56’ E] and is, at present, located in Pakistan.

The taxon Calandrella raytal vauriei (Koelz 1954) [type locality = Assam, India) (19) was considered to be a synonym for the nominate subspecies by Ripley (1961, 1982) (20, 21) though Peters (1960) (17) treated it as a separate subspecies. Ali and Ripley (1987) (9) and Alström et al. (2021) (2) treated vauriei as a synonym of the nominate subspecies.

Sand Lark was placed in the genus Calandrella in 1829 by Edward Blyth in his catalog of birds, featured in the museum of the Asiatic Society (22). This was later changed by Horsfield and Moore, who placed Sand Lark in the genus Alaudala (23). However, Edward Blyth, in his commentary on Dr. Jerdon’s ‘Birds of India’, corrected the spelling to Alaudula (24), with the support of other authorities of the time (25, 26, 27). However, the genus Calandrella was used regularly for Sand Lark, from the 1940s until recently; by Ali (1945, 1955) (10, 28), Peters (1960) (17), Ripley (1982) (21) and Ali & Ripley (1987) (9). The latest field guides for the Indian Subcontinent (29, 6) also placed Sand Lark in Calandrella.

A comprehensive study of the phylogeny of the Alaudidae based on two mitochondrial and three nuclear loci revealed that Calandrella was non-monophyletic: some of its members (C. raytal, C. rufescens, C. cheleensis and C. athensis) formed the sister clade to the genera Eremalauda / Chersophilus, whereas others [C. cinerea (type species of Calandrella), C. brachydactyla and C. acutirostris] formed the sister clade to the genus Eremophila(30). Based on this, it was proposed that the generic name Alaudala Horsfield and Moore (1856) should be used for the first of these clades (30). This treatment is now widely adopted(13, 14).

Later studies (31, 2) found evidence of lineage separation between raytal and adamsi dating back to 1.01 (95% confidence interval 0.52–1.36) million years ago based on mitochondrial DNA but not supported by nuclear DNA, and the latter study also pointed out differences between these taxa in morphology, song and habitat/bioclimate. More research is warranted on the potential separation between raytal and adamsi.

Geographic Variation

The subspecies adamsi differs from raytal mainly in having a shorter and thicker bill, with more curved culmen, and generally less pointed and decurved appearance. These two subspecies intergrade in Haryana in northern India.

The subspecies krishnakumarsinhji, recognized here and by other taxonomic authorities, is perhaps better treated as a synonym of adamsi, a plumage variant (morph) rather than as a distinct taxon. It was originally known only from around its type locality of Bhavnagar, Gujarat, India (7). Subsequent study of specimens showed that individuals similar to this taxon occurred also in Kachchh in Gujarat (11, 6). It is now known that individuals with the krishnakumarsinhji plumage type are found in many parts of Gujarat (1), without being restricted to any geographical area, and in view of this, krishnakumarsinhji is better treated as a synonym of adamsi rather than as a distinct taxon.

Many lark species show a remarkable degree of intraspecific geographical variation in plumage color tones. It has long been recognized that variation in plumage color is closely related to the color of the substrate (soil, rock, or sand) that different populations live on (32). For krishnakumarsinhji, the correlation between soil color and plumage was apparent when the type specimen and other specimens were collected from the marine mudflats in Bhavnagar, where individuals wet by the tides appeared dark, almost black, and other individuals had plumages varying from brown to dark muddy brown (7). The darker plumage of krishnakumarsinhji could be an adaptation to the dark substrate color in the Bhavnagar area. Birds similar to krishnakumarsinhji and birds intermediate between the adamsi and krishnakumarsinhji plumage types are widely seen in Gujarat (1). Sand Larks that are seen in southern Gujarat (Surat, Valsad, and nearby districts) also show plumage variation – not all individuals are similar to krishnakumarsinhji. In the Little Rann of Kachchh in Gujarat, the birds have pale brownish plumage when they inhabit dried mudflats in the winter, whereas during the monsoon season, their plumages look darker to match the wet mud (PG).

There is some geographical variation within the subspecies: e.g., specimens of adamsi from Lahore, Pakistan have longer wings and tails than specimens from Sindh, Pakistan. Similarly, raytal specimens from Bihar, India are larger than those from the city of Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh, India (3). Further research is needed to understand the geographic variation of subspecies across their ranges.


Three subspecies are currently recognized but see Geographic Variation.


Alaudala raytal raytal Scientific name definitions


Northern India (east from Haryana to Arunachal Pradesh), Nepal, Bangladesh and central and southern Myanmar.

Identification Summary

See Plumage.


Alaudala raytal krishnakumarsinhji Scientific name definitions


Bhavnagar, in southern Gujarat (western India), possibly more widespread, but also possibly better treated as a junior synonym of adamsi (see Geographic Variation).

Identification Summary

Individuals of the subspecies krishnakumarsinhji are darker grey and more heavily streaked above, and have considerably thicker and more profuse streaks on the breast (rarely almost tear-drop shaped), often with a few diffuse streaks also on the flanks (1).


Alaudala raytal adamsi Scientific name definitions


Southeastern Iran, Pakistan and northwestern India (at least Punjab, northwestern Gujarat).

Identification Summary

Differs from the subspecies raytal mainly by its distinctly shorter and slightly thicker bill with more curved culmen and lower edge to the lower mandible. Accordingly, the bill does not have the long, slender, sharply pointed and slightly down-curved appearance of the nominate subspecies (thus making it more similar to the bill of Turkestan Short-toed Lark (Alaudala heinei)). The plumage can be identical to that of the raytal subspecies.

Related Species

Sand Lark belongs to the genus Alaudala, which also includes Alaudala rufescens, Alaudala cheleensis, Alaudala heinei and Alaudala somalica (30, 31, 2). Based on mitochondrial DNA, it is sister to Alaudala heinei (although the statistical support is not unanimously strong), whereas based on analyses of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA combined it is suggested to be the sister species to a clade comprising Alaudala rufescens and Alaudala heinei, although the statistical support varies among analyses (31, 2). The genus Alaudala is most closely related to the genera Eremalauda and Chersophilus, which was a great surprise when discovered (30).


The name raytal is derived from the Hindi word for sand, which is Rēt. This is based on the sandy habitats in which the bird is usually seen. It is also known as the Indian Short-toed Lark, Indian Sand Lark, and Indian Sandlark.

The names Indus Sand Lark (for the subspecies adamsi), Ganges Sand Lark (for the nominate subspecies raytal), and Bhavnagar Sand Lark (for the subspecies krishnakumarsinhji) have also been used earlier. The name Asian Short-toed Lark was the former name for Sand Lark, but this name is now used for Alaudala cheleensis.

A. r. adamsi was named by A. Hume after Andrew Leith Adams (1826_1882), a British Army surgeon in India who collected Sand Lark specimens.

A. r. krishnakumarsinhji was named by C. Vaurie and K. S. Dharmakumarsinhji after Raol Shri Sir Krishna Kumarsinjhi Bhavsinjhi Gohil, Maharaja (ruler) of Bhavnagar (1919_1965; reigned 1931_1947).

The Hindi name for Sand Lark is Rētǎl, or "sand bird". In Gujarati, India, it is called Rēt Chandool. The Bengali name for Sand Lark is Bele Bageri / Retal.

Its former Persian name was Chakavak-e Hendi, based on its previous English name of Indian Sand Lark. Later, it was changed to Chakavak-e Sheni in accordance with its current English name: Sand Lark.

Fossil History

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