SPECIES

Mongolian Short-toed Lark Calandrella dukhunensis Scientific name definitions

Per Alström and Sundev Gombobaatar
Version: 2.0 — Published September 17, 2021

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Identification

14–15 cm. Mongolian Short-toed Lark is a small (14–15 cm), compact lark with a fairly heavy, pointed, mainly pale pinkish bill, and long tertials that reach to or nearly to the tips of the folded wings. In adult (definitive) plumage, it is heavily streaked above and mainly unmarked below except for dark patches on the side of the upper breast/lower neck. The juvenile plumage is markedly different, being heavily pale-spotted or pale-scalloped above and having dark spots on the breast. On the breeding grounds it is most likely to be confused with the sympatric Asian Short-toed Lark (Alaudala cheleensis), whereas on migration and in the winter quarters it is easily confused with Hume's Lark (Calandrella acutirostris) and, especially, Greater Short-toed Lark (Calandrella brachydactyla).

Similar Species

Mongolian Short-toed Lark differs from Asian Short-toed Lark by lacking a distinct primary projection beyond the tips of the tertials (but beware of molting or heavily worn individuals, which can show a distinct primary projection); more pinkish, less yellowish, bill; usually more heavily streaked mantle and scapulars; less streaking on the breast (usually a band of streaks across the breast in Asian Short-toed Lark, though some individuals have rather few and very fine streaks); a distinct dark patch on each side of the upper breast/lower neck (occasionally virtually lacking in fresh, autumn, plumage); more contrasting head pattern, especially more prominent supercilium; and often virtually unstreaked forehead/forecrown (uniformly streaked crown in Asian Short-toed Lark). Moreover, both the song, calls and song-flight are clearly different from those of Asian Short-toed Lark (see Sounds and Vocal Behavior).

Mongolian Short-toed Lark may be sympatric with eastern populations of Greater Short-toed Lark (C. b. longipennis) in northwestern India in the non-breeding period, although the geographical overlap is very poorly known. These two taxa are extremely similar, and perhaps sometimes inseparable in the field. Mongolian Short-toed Lark is browner above (though the color can be identical) and, especially, more rufous-buff on the breast sides, and usually shows a stronger contrast between the warmly colored breast sides and the less warmly colored forehead/crown and upperparts than in Greater Short-toed Lark. The bill averages proportionally shorter and deeper than in Greater Short-toed lark. The calls are clearly different (see Sounds and Vocal Behavior).

From Hume's Lark it differs by its usually noticeably shorter, deeper-based and less pointed bill, which also shows different color pattern (pale pinkish with usually relatively pale gray culmen in Mongolian Short-toed Lark, brownish-yellow or deep pink with a contrastingly dark culmen in Hume's Lark). Compared to eastern populations of Hume's Lark, which are the ones most likely to be found together with Mongolian Short-toed Lark, the head pattern is usually more contrasting, with more prominent pale supercilium (especially in front of the eye), more contrastingly patterned ear-coverts and paler lores (usually a darker stripe on the lores in Hume's Lark, though there is overlap). The calls differ clearly from those of Hume's Lark (see Sounds and Vocal Behavior).

In the hand, the wing formula and tail patten separates Mongolian Short-toed Lark from Hume’s Lark. In the former, p6 (numbered p1 to p10 distally) is distinctly shorter than the wing tip, whereas in the latter p6 is only slightly shorter than the wing tip resulting in a more rounded wing. Moreover, Mongolian Short-toed Lark shows distinct emarginations on the outer webs of p7–p8 (with at the most a very faint emargination on p6), whereas in Hume's Lark p6–p8 are emarginated. Mongolian Short-toed Lark usually shows a prominent, clear-cut pale wedge to the inner web of the outermost rectrix, whereas Hume’s Lark usually shows little or even no pale on the inner web of this feather (however, some Hume's Larks show prominent, though slightly diffuse, pale wedge).

Plumages

Mongolian Short-toed Lark has 10 primaries (numbered distally, p1–p10), with p10 minute, 10 secondaries (numbered proximally, s1–s10, and including 4 tertials, s7–s10), and 12 rectrices (numbered distally, r1–r6, on each side of the tail).

Natal Down

Unknown.

Juvenile Plumage

The juvenile plumage is markedly different from the adult in showing paler and more uniformly colored centres to the forehead, crown and upperparts with prominent blackish subterminal bands and rather broad clear-cut whitish tips, producing a black-and-white spotted or scaly appearance; showing a distinct dark moustachial stripe and more dark-spotted rear auriculars and, at least when very young, darker lores; less well marked supercilium in front of the eye; the wing feathers and central pair of rectrices have slightly paler centres, blackish or blackish-brown subterminal bands and clear-cut whitish edges and tips; there is no dark patch on the side of the upper breast/neck side, while the breast shows distinct rounded dark spots; the underparts are paler and more uniformly colored; and p10 is slightly longer and more blunt-tipped than in adult.

Adult (Definitive) Plumage

The sexes are similar on plumage. The forehead, crown and nape are buffy gray brown, or marginally more rufous brown, with dark gray-brown or blackish-brown streaks on the forehead and crown, which can be virtually lacking especially on the forehead and anterior crown in worn plumage, at least in the breeding season. The base color of the upperparts is buffy gray brown with distinct blackish-brown or dark gray-brown streaks on the mantle and scapulars (more apparent in worn than in fresh plumage); the rump is faintly streaked, and the uppertail coverts are plain or with darker shaft streak to the longest feathers. The lores are pale and unmarked or show a trace of a dark stripe. There is a prominent pale buffish or whitish supercilium. The auriculars are pale gray brown or pale buffish, usually with a darker stripe along the upper margin and a darker rear edge and often some darker mottling; there is often a contrasting pale sub-ocular band below the eye, framed below by a thin dark crescent. It sometimes shows a very indistinct darker moustachial stripe. The lesser coverts are pale buffy gray brown; the median and greater coverts are dark gray brown or blackish brown with pale buffish tips and edges when fresh, broader on the tips than on the edges, forming distinct pale wing bars (the pale edges and tips can wear off almost completely). The dark centers to the median coverts often stand out as a dark bar. The tertials are medium or dark gray brown with distinct pale edges when fresh (which can wear off almost completely). The remiges and primary coverts are blackish brown with narrow pale edges (broadest on the secondaries). The central pair of rectrices (r1) are similar to the tertials; r2–r6 are blackish brown, with whitish or pale buffish outer web and a prominent whitish or pale buffish wedge to the inner web of r6 and some white on the outer web of r5, sometimes also on the tip of r5. The base colour of the underparts is whitish or pale buffish, with rufous-buff breast sides and flanks (the latter are often concealed underneath the wings). There is usually a rather distinct, irregular dark patch at the junction of the side of the upper breast and lower neck (which is occasionally virtually lacking in fresh plumage), and often a few small dark streaks as well. The underwing coverts are mainly whitish or buffish white.

Molts

The molt has not been studied in detail in this species. The following is based on 5 and 4.

Preformative (Post-juvenile) Molt

This molt takes place at a very early age, probably starting when the bird is ca one month old; birds in active molt have been observed between 27 June (recently started) and 20 August (nearly completed). This molt is complete, comprising all feathers, including remiges and rectrices.

First and Definitive Prealternate (Pre-breeding) Molts

In common with its sister species Hume's Lark, but unlike Greater Short-toed Lark, there is a partial molt comprising at least some head and body feathers, possibly sometimes most of them, and often some secondary coverts and tertials. This molt takes place between January and March.

Definitive Prebasic (Post-breeding) Molt

This molt, which is complete, appears to take place mainly in August, and adults that have almost finished molting have been observed in late August and early September.

Bare Parts

Bill

In adults, the bill is pale pinkish, with darker culmen varying from rather pale to rather dark gray, and sometimes a faint darker tip to the lower mandible. In very young juveniles, the bill is grayish with extensive dark tip (especially on lower mandible) and pale yellow gape.

Iris and Facial Skin

The iris is deep brown or dark gray brown. In juveniles, the iris may be exclusively dark gray brown.

Tarsi and Toes

The tarsi, toes, and claws are pale pinkish (not dark, contra 6 and 7). In juveniles, the tarsi and toes may have a yellowish tinge.

Measurements

Mongolian Short-toed Lark is on average longer-winged and slightly deeper-billed than Greater Short-toed Lark. Males are on average larger than females.

Wing length (maximum chord, flattened and stretched) mean 100.4 mm (± 1.92 SD, n = 10) in male and 94.0 mm (± 2.00 SD, n = 10) in female 4; mean 100.4 mm (96–103, n = 14) in male and 94.2 mm (91–97, n = 13) in female 8.

Tail length mean 58.8 mm (± 1.30 SD, n = 10) in male and 51.9 mm (± 2.43 SD, n = 10) in female 4; mean 59.5 mm (58–62, n = 14) in male and 53.2 mm (50–56, n = 13) in female 8.

Bill length (to skull) mean 13.7 mm (± 0.48 SD, n = 10) in male and 13.2 mm (± 0.54 SD, n = 10) in female 4; mean 13.5 mm (12.4–14.8, n = 27, sexes combined) 8.

Bill depth mean 6.3 mm (5.6–7.0, n = 24, sexes combined) 8.

Tarsus mean 20.8 mm (19.1–22.0, n= 27, sexes combined) 8.

Recommended Citation

Alström, P. and S. Gombobaatar (2021). Mongolian Short-toed Lark (Calandrella dukhunensis), version 2.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman and B. K. Keeney, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.sstlar4.02