Species names in all available languages
|English (United States)||Short-clawed Lark|
|French||Alouette à ongles courts|
|French (France)||Alouette à ongles courts|
|Spanish (Spain)||Alondra chuana|
|Turkish||Kısa Parmaklı Toygar|
This account is part of the 8th edition of Roberts Birds of Southern Africa. This project is a joint collaboration between the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. G. Derek Engelbrecht revised the account. Peter Pyle contributed to the Plumages, Molts, and Structure page. Peter F. D. Boesman contributed to the Vocalizations section. Huy C. Truong updated the distribution map. Leo Gilman copy edited the account. Arnau Bonan Barfull curated the media. Shawn M. Billerman and Paul G. Rodewald reviewed the account.
Certhilauda chuana (Smith, 1836)
The Key to Scientific Names
In 1985, ornithologist Gordon Lindsay Maclean wrote that the Short-clawed Lark is "probably the most poorly known [lark] species in southern Africa.” At that time, the first description of the species' nest had only recently been published, and even description of its plumage and vocalizations as presented in leading ornithological publications was erroneous, given that so few people had studied the species. Within three decades, however, this enigmatic species has gone from virtual anonymity to among the best-known larks in Africa.
The specific epithet of its scientific name, chuana, refers to the Tswana people (cf. Bechuanaland, the colonial name of present-day Botswana), with whom the Short-clawed Lark shares much of its range. The species is endemic to southern Africa, where it occurs mainly in southeastern Botswana and northern South Africa. It has a disjunct distribution with an extensive western population in Botswana and South Africa’s Northern Cape and North West provinces and a smaller, isolated eastern population in Limpopo Province, South Africa. It can be highly localized within its range and is closely associated with open, semi-arid Vachellia savanna that has been degraded by subsistence agriculture. Although the species is monotypic, distinct regional dialects across weak or no geographical barriers raise the possibility that the Short-clawed Lark may comprise a complex of cryptic species.
Although common in suitable habitats and regarded as a species of Least Concern by BirdLife International, the Short-clawed Lark has always been on the radar as a species of conservation concern. It is considered near-threatened in South Africa and is protected by provincial legislation in the three provinces where it occurs. The species presents a conservation conundrum in that it is closely associated with habitats degraded by subsistence agriculture. Conservation authorities encourage rural farmers to use modern technologies and adopt more sustainable farming practices, but these are detrimental to the Short-clawed Lark as they reduce its preferred habitat.
Its vocalizations are similar to congeners in the Long-billed Lark complex and, like them, Short-clawed Lark performs an awe-inspiring display flight that peaks in the breeding season. The species is resident and males defend permanent territories year after year, with one male occupying the same territory for nearly 16 years, the longevity record in the lark family (Alaudidae). Breeding usually commences in September, just before the onset of the wet season, and lasts until April. Clutches generally have 2–3 eggs, with the largest clutches at the peak of the wet season and smaller clutches at the beginning and end of the wet season.