Bird of the Day: Greater Hoopoe-lark (Alaemon alaudipes – (Desfontaines, 1789)) – A true desert bird

Greater Hoopoe-lark (Alaemon alaudipes – (Desfontaines, 1789)) or better know as Hoope Lark, is one my favorite larks.

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Greater Hoopoe-larks occurs in the most absolutely bare and featureless regions where other larks do not venture and occasionally in regions with sparse and stunted growths of bush, but is above all a form of the flat and open stretches of the desert. They are quite large, attenuated lark, with character on ground recalling large pipit until long, decurved bill (often held above horizontal) seen.

Plumage sandy to grey above and stone-white below, with (on ground) little relief except for narrow black eye-stripe, moustache, and lower cheek border, dark spots on breast, and transverse dull black and white bands on folded wing. Appearance in flight dramatically different, with black and white bands along both wing surfaces (recalling Hoopoe) and mainly black, white-edged tail. Female and juvenile have fainter facial pattern.

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Adult unmistakable, though at distance in haze confusion with large pipit Anthus and even courser Cursorius possible. Juvenile unmistakable in flight. Flies reluctantly except when singing or displaying, appearing to explode off ground and making usually short, low, somewhat undulating and half-circular escape-flight. Flight action loose and free but with illusion of weak flutter caused by wing pattern. Song-flight comprises short vertical climb and descent. Walks and runs; often runs for several hundred metres. Apparently confident of its cryptic plumage, stands erect in alarm with bill and head held up.

There are 4 recognised subspecies of Hoopoe Larks

    • Alaemon alaudipes boavistae – Hartert, 1917 Cape Verde Islands
    • Alaemon alaudipes alaudipes – (Desfontaines, 1789) Deserts of North Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia)
    • Alaemon alaudipes desertorum – (Stanley, 1814) Coastal Sudan (Port Sudan) to nw Somalia and Aden
    • Alaemon alaudipes doriae – (Salvadori, 1868) E Arabia to Iraq, Iran and nw India

Hoopoe Larks may form a superspecies with A. hamertoni, but differs from that species in nest and display behaviour. Geographical variation rather slight; size increase partially clinal from W to E. Nominate race and Alaemon alaudipes doriae intergrade in Middle East.

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Geographical variation is present although slight, both in colour and size. Birds of Cape Verde Islands and North Africa rather small, size clinally larger through Middle East towards Iran. Extralimital race desertorum from Red Sea coasts about as small as Cape Verde boavistae and North African nominate alaudipes, doriae from Pakistan and north-west India smaller than birds from Iran. Rufous morph of boavistae has broader and deeper rufous pink-cinnamon fringes along feathers of upperparts than nominate alaudipes of North Africa, not sandy-pink; grey morph darker and purer grey than buffish-grey North African birds, but tertials and t1 rather deep rufous; spots on chest generally large, but some nominate alaudipes similar; bill of boavistae on average slightly more slender than nominate alaudipes, especially tip. Colour of birds from Syria and Jordan like those of North Africa, so these included here in nominate alaudipes, though size slightly larger; birds from Iraq have narrower pink-cinnamon fringes on upperparts, with more grey of feather-bases visible; both colour and size near typical doriae from Iran which is about as grey as grey morph of boavistae. Upperparts of Red Sea race desertorum also grey, but slightly paler, purer, and less brown than doriae and boavistae; spots on chest variable in size, as in other races.

Hoopoe Lark (Alaemon alaudipes)

They feed largely on insects and, where available, snails; also a little plant material. Much animal food obtained by digging with bill. Walks slowly along and, without appearing to pause and listen, suddenly stops to dig fiercely, sometimes for 3–4 min; will dig into 5 cm of sand, often quite hard and rock-like. Prey thus taken are normally insect larvae, but has been seen to dig out and kill a small gecko.!!!!!…..

Hoopoe Larks are typically tame and confiding, especially when paired, allowing approach to within a few metres. Often reluctant to fly, preferring to run ahead of intruder, at most flying low for short distance. Between runs, typically halts, takes 1–2 more steps, and stops, bobbing body up and down and raising its head as if to listen. Human intruder on territory may also elicit wing-spreading.

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Song of Male Hoopoe Lark is characteristic feature of desert. Song is ringing and far-carrying, musical, melodious, plaintive, piping, or fluting; quality frequently likened to Nightingale Luscinia megarhynchos. Song typically of 3 parts: a series of fluting sounds, then a trill, and finally another series of fluting sounds; these delivered during Song-flight.

They nest in or on top of bush or low shrub, 30–60 cm above ground; also, perhaps less often, on ground in shelter of rock or bush. Nest: when above ground, constructed of twigs woven into bush, and lined with softer material; on ground, in shallow scrape lined with twigs and with soft inner lining of wool and plant down.

The eastern most range of Hoopoe Lark is Kutch and Sind. The best place to see and photograph them is Little Rann of Kutch in Gujarat. Although found in Great Rann of Kutch too.

Gallery Album: Greater Hoopoe-lark (Alaemon alaudipes – (Desfontaines, 1789))


Calls From xeno-canto.org

Further Reading on Greater Hoopoe-lark (Alaemon alaudipes – (Desfontaines, 1789)):

  • Betham RM; , (1920), The Desert Lark (Alaemon desertorum), Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, 27:2: 400 – 401.
  • Mayr E & JC Greenway, Jr, ed (1960). Check-list of birds of the World. Volume 9. Museum of Comparative Zoology, Cambridge, Massachusetts. p. 39
  • “Nidification of the Desert Sand Lark Alaemon desertorum”. J. Bombay Nat. Hist. Soc. 14 (1): 179–180. 1902.
  • Alsheikh, A.M. & Trappe, J.M. (1983). “Taxonomy of Phaeangium lefebvrei, a desert truffle eaten by birds”. Canadian Journal of Botany 61: 1919–1925.
  • Betham RM;Parry-Jones J; , (1907), Breeding of the Common or Grey Quail (Coturnix communis) and the Desert Lark (Aloemon desertorum)Report of the international seminar on the Indian vulture situation Sept. 2000, Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, 17:3: 848.
  • Bolster RC; , (1922), Occurrence of the Desert Lark Alaemon desertorum in the Punjab, Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, 28:4: 1132.
  • Bulkley H; , (1902), Nidification of the Desert Sand Lark Aloemon desertorum, Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, 14:1: 179 – 180.
  • Cowan PJ , (2008), Crepuscular foraging by Hoopoe Larks Alaemon alaudipes in the Kuwait summer., Sandgrouse, 30: 91 – 93.
  • Cunningham P L (2000). “The use of burrows by Hoopoe Lark (Alaemon alaudipes)”. Tribulus 10: 21.
  • Dickinson, E.C., R.W.R.J. Dekker, S. Eck & S. Somadikarta (2001). “Systematic notes on Asian birds. 12. Types of the Alaudidae”. Zool. Verh. Leiden 335: 85–126.
  • Haugen, Michael J., Tieleman, B. Irene, Williams, Joseph B. (2003). “Phenotypic flexibility in cutaneous water loss and lipids of the stratum corneum”. J. Exp. Biol. 206: 3581–3588
  • Jennings MC , (2007), Note on birds feeding – Kuwait., Phoenix, 23: 21 – 24.
  • K.Mullarney; L.Svensson; D.Zetterstrom; P.J.Grant , (1999), Greater Hoopoe-Lark (Alaemon alaudipes), COLLINS BIRD GUIDE – BRITAIN & EUROPE; Collins, : 239.
  • Khoury F; Al-Shamlih M; Sultan H; Abu-Ghalyun Y , (2007), The effects of vegetation cover on the structure of bird communities in a hyperarid desert., Zoology in the Middle East, 40: 11 – 20.
  • Kirwan GM; Ozen M; Kurt B; Martins RP; Eds , (2003), Turkey Bird Report 1997–2001., Sandgrouse, 25: 8 – 31.
  • Krys Kazmierczak; Ber van Perlo , (2000), Greater Hoopoe-Lark (Alaemon alaudipes), A FIELD GUIDE TO THE BIRDS OF THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT; Yale University Press, : 186.
  • Oates, EW (1890). Fauna of British India. Birds. Volume 2. Taylor and Francis, London. pp. 316–318.
  • Ramsay, Wardlaw (1923). Guide to the birds of Europe and North Africa. Gurney and Jackson, London. p. 52.
  • Rasmussen PC & JC Anderton (2005). Birds of South Asia: The Ripley Guide. Volume 2. Smithsonian Institution & Lynx Edicions. p. 309.
  • RF Porter; S.Christensen; P.Schiermacker-Hansen , (2004), Greater Hoopoe-Lark (Alaemon alaudipes), BIRDS OF THE MIDDLE EAST; Poyser, : 132.
  • Salim Ali; S Dillon Ripley , (1986), No. 884. Large Desert Lark (Alaemon alaudipes doriae ) (Salvadori), Handbook of the Birds of India and Pakistan; Oxford University Press, New Delhi, Volume 5 (Larks to Grey Hypocolius ): 16.
  • SHELTON N , (1997), The first Hoopoe Lark Alaemon alaudipes in Turkey., Sandgrouse, 19:2: 149 – 150.
  • SHOBRAK M , (1998), Notes on the breeding and cooling behaviour of Hoopoe Lark Alaemon alaudipes in central Saudi Arabia, Sandgrouse, 20:1: 53 – 55.
  • Smith JL; , (1914), A note on the nesting of some birds found in the Multan District, Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, 23:2: 365 – 367.
  • Tieleman BI;Van Noordwijk HJ;Williams JB; , (2008), Nest Site Selection in a Hot Desert: Trade-Off Between Microclimate and Predation Risk, The Condor, 110:1: 116 – 124.
  • Vaurie, C (1951). “A study of Asiatic larks”. Bull. Am. Mus. Nat. Hist. 97: 431–526.
  • Williams, J. B., B. I. Tieleman, M. Shobrak. , (1999), Lizard burrows provide thermal refugia for larks in the Arabian desert., Condor, 101: 714 – 717.