Small birds found in open habitats with few trees.

These small birds fly well but nest and seek food on the ground so I regard their habitat as terrestrial. Insects and invertebrates are their main food source but some will also take seeds and plant materials. In general they prefer open well vegetated areas without many trees or bushes.

• Larks, family Alaudidae – 96 species - found in Africa, Asia and Europe with just one species each in Australia and the Americas.
• Pipits, family Motacillidae – 45 species – found in Europe, Africa, Australasia and the Americas.
• Longclaws, family Motacillidae - 8 species – only in Africa.
• Wagtails, family Motacillidae – 13 species – found in Europe, Africa, Asia and 1 in North America.

LARKS.

Larks favour open, sparsely vegetated grasslands, heaths, rocky plains and steppes. The various species can be found in areas ranging from desert to Himalayan slopes at up to 4600 metres. They generally avoid trees and bushes.

Family Alaudidae contains 96 species:-

• Africa – 69
• Europe – 15
• Asia – 10
• Australia – 1
• North & Middle America - 1

Habitats and Behaviour.

Spain and Morocco are good places to find a variety of Larks.

• Crested Lark – found in Europe, Africa north of the equator, India and the Middle East where it favours open, dry, often bare ground as well as farmland.

• Thekla Lark – found in Africa and Europe where it favours stony and bushy areas, often higher up on mountainsides. Readily perches on bushes unlike other Larks.

• Horned (Shore) Lark – found in Europe and the Americas this bird favours bare, stony ground.

• Temminck’s Lark – in Africa favours low lying desert.

• Greater Hoopoe-Lark – found in N. Africa and the Middle East where it favours undulating desert with soft sand. Distinctive song flight.

• Woodlark – found in Europe on mountain grassland and heaths. Occasionally seen perched in areas with scattered trees.

• Eurasian Skylark – favours short grassland and pasture in Europe and N. Africa.

In the East Africa region 26 species are listed in field guides. They tend to be grouped into grassland / bushed grassland and dry country Larks. Many of these species occupy their own discrete territory within the region.

PIPITS.

Pipits tend to be found in terrestrial habitats where they are ground nesters and foragers. They are insectivorous and ,in common with other Motacillidae species, seek out much of their prey on foot. The exceptions are the Tree Pipit and the Wood Pipit which are found in woodland.

Family Motacillidae contains 45 species all listed in genus Anthus:-

• Africa - 17
• Europe - 11
• South America - 7
• Asia - 5
• Australia and New Zealand - 3
• North America - 2.

Identification of Pipits is notoriously difficult. Looking at the African species, Roberts, in Birds of Southern Africa, says “in the absence of any unmistakable features, it is better not to try and make a decision about Pipit identification”.

Habitats and Behaviour.

Roberts goes on to say “habitat can be useful but is not foolproof”. Certainly I find this true of the Pipits which can be present in the UK:-

• Eurasian Rock Pipit found on rocky coasts all round ther UK.
• Water Pipit is a winter visitor to the UK.
• Tree Pipit is only found in the UK in the summer months.
• Meadow Pipit is common in the UK.

Field guides seem to rely on a variety of identification features:-
• The overall body colour of the Water Pipit is slightly lighter than the Rock Pipit which is an olive / grey colour.
• The under-parts of the Water Pipit are white and the streaks are more clearly defined. The outer tail feathers have white edges.
• Although the Meadow Pipit can have whitish outer tail feathers the under-parts of the body are quite light in colour.
• The legs of the Water Pipit are light in colour whereas the Rock Pipit has dark legs and the Meadow Pipit has pink legs. Just to confuse things some more the Water Pipit in winter plumage can also have dark legs.

Habitats can help to some extent:-

• Eurasian Rock Pipits tend to be found along rocky coasts.
• Water Pipits favour damp grassland.
• Tree Pipit is a ground feeder which seeks cover in a tree if disturbed.

Behaviour can also help:-

• The Eurasian Rock Pipit is more approachable than the Water Pipit. If startled, the Rock Pipit flies a fairly short distance, close to the ground, before it lands again.
• The Water Pipit is very shy and tends to fly a long way as soon as it is spotted.
• Meadow Pipit when flushed rises and constantly changes direction.

LONGCLAWS.

These 8 species are only found in Africa where they favour moist, seasonally flooded grassland usually without trees.

WAGTAILS.

Wagtails like open spaces including pastures and meadows often near water.

Family Motacillidae contains 13 species:-

• Europe – 6
• Africa – 4
• Asia – 2
• North America 1

Habitats and Behaviour.

• White Wagtail prefers bare areas for feeding, where it can see and pursue its prey. In urban areas it has adapted to foraging on paved areas such as car parks. It nests in crevices in stone walls and similar natural and man-made structures.
• Western Yellow Wagtail breeds in damp meadows and marshes. Also nests in crop fields near to rivers or streams. It is a summer visitor to the UK.
• Grey Wagtail is fairly readily seen in the UK where it favours fast flowing streams and rivers often in upland areas.

New world habitats.

The habitats which Larks, Pipits and Wagtails require are clearly available in America and Australia I wonder why so few of these species are found in these regions. Which other birds might displace them?

In the Americas possibilities include the Dickissel, which is listed with the Grosbeaks and Buntings and the Meadowlarks (6)and Cowbirds (6) listed in the Icteridae family.

Two Cowbirds are found in North America. The Brown-headed Cowbird occupies most of the region south of the Arctic. It now poses a major threat to the continued survival of the many species and subspecies that it regularly parasitises.