Widespread in Continental Europe, the Woodlark has a restricted range in the south of the UK. These cryptically camouflaged birds are usually difficult to spot, although they are distinctive in flight and song.
Woodlark resting on rocks
Woodlark foraging in natural habitat
Woodlark pretending to be injured to protect its nest
27cm to 30cm
23g to 35g
The Woodlark is a small, short-tailed species with a short crest and a prominent white eyebrow stripe (supercilium) that reaches the nape. They have pale, whitish underparts and a buff-coloured back with dark streaking. A black and white wing patch is visible in flight.
Woodlarks are stout little birds, most at home on the ground. Their legs and feet are pinkish brown and set well back toward the tail. Their straight, medium-length bill is brownish, with a pinkish base to the lower half (mandible).
Female Woodlarks look very similar to males but tend to be slightly smaller. Juveniles can be identified by their spotted (not streaked) breast and pale-edged plumage on the back and crown. These contrasting feathers create a scalloped or scaled appearance.
The Skylark is the most similar bird you are likely to encounter in the UK, although that species is larger and longer-tailed. More differences between these larks are covered later in this article.
Woodlark perching on a branch
The Woodlark is a small songbird, roughly the size of a House Sparrow.
Woodlarks are compact birds with noticeably short tails. Adults have a total body length of just 15 centimetres.
Adult Woodlarks weigh 23 to 35 grams.
These birds have relatively short and broadly rounded wings. Most adults have a wingspan of 27 to 30 centimetres.
Woodlark standing on a post on one leg
Woodlarks have a pleasant three-syllabled ‘t-lu-i’ call. Males produce a rising and accelerating liquid whistling song from the ground, a perch, or the air.
Woodlarks are omnivorous birds that forage on the ground or in low vegetation. Invertebrates like spiders, caterpillars, and beetles are dominant in the summer, and seeds and leaves are most important in the winter.
Woodlark chicks eat insects, especially caterpillars, beetles, and flies. These are caught within a few hundred meters of the nest and provided by both parents.
Woodlark feeding on a caterpillar
Woodlarks prefer natural habitats with sandy soils over farmland and managed areas. Ideal habitats contain perching sites, bare patches of ground for foraging, and denser vegetation for nesting. Look out for them in heathlands, open woodlands, forest clearings, and woodland edges.
Woodlarks are widespread in Europe, extending into Western Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa. They have a patchy distribution in parts of Southern and Eastern England and Northern Wales.
Woodlarks are largely terrestrial. They forage, nest, and sleep on the ground or among low vegetation. They will ascend onto prominent perches and tree limbs to sing where their voice carries further.
Woodlark in natural habitat
Woodlarks are a rare species in the United Kingdom, with a limited range and a breeding population of about 3000 pairs. Despite their scarcity, the species has recovered well from a low of about 250 pairs in the 1980s.
Woodlarks are mostly limited to a few isolated areas of eastern and southern England. They are best known from the following sites:
Woodlark in open woodland
Woodlarks can live for at least seven years, although their average life expectancy is about three years in the wild.
Adult Woodlarks are most vulnerable to agile birds of prey like the Sparrowhawk. The following nest predators were recorded in studies in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands:
Woodlarks in the United Kingdom are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (Schedule 1).
Woodlarks are not endangered. Despite their relative rarity, these birds have a green conservation status in the United Kingdom. Their world population is believed to be increasing, and they are assessed as ‘Least Concern’ species on the IUCN Red List.
Woodlark collecting nesting materials
Woodlarks nest on the ground in areas with sandy soils, usually under heather or grass tussocks. The nest is a scrape, excavated by the female and lined with soft plant material like moss, grass, and leaves.
Woodlarks breed in their first year as adults. They nest between March and July, producing two or even three broods each season. The female Woodlark incubates the eggs alone for 12 to 15 days, and the chicks will begin to leave the nest about ten days later, several days before they are ready to fly.
Woodlarks usually lay three to five beautifully patterned whitish eggs with reddish speckles. Each egg measures approximately 21 millimetres long and 16 millimetres wide.
Woodlarks are not known to mate for life. They are generally monogamous, although pair bonds last only a single season.
Woodlark nest with four eggs
Woodlarks roost on the ground among heather and tall grass. Taller vegetation provides them with some protection from predators and shelter from bad weather.
Woodlark on the ground amongst vegetation
Woodlarks are mostly resident in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in Western Europe. They are migratory in the north and east of their range, with birds from Russia and Northern Europe migrating south for the winter.
Woodlarks are native to the United Kingdom. In the late 1800s, they were immortalised in the poem: ‘The Woodlark’ by the English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Woodlarks and Skylarks are very similar in appearance, although you are much likelier to spot the widespread and common Skylark in the UK than its relatively rare and localised relative. Look for the following identifying features to help distinguish between these songbirds.
Woodlarks sing at all times of the day, including after dark. Early studies suggest they are most vocal on still, warm nights with bright moonlight conditions.
Both male and female Woodlarks are known to sing. However, it is the male who performs the characteristic song flight where he ascends 100 metres or more in a spiraling, fluttering flight and then slowly descends to his perch or the ground.
Found in the Iberian peninsula and across North Africa, the Thekla’s lark is a ground-dwelling songbird known for its tuneful song. The species is particularly widespread and common throughout Spain, including the Balearic Islands, where more than 90 percent of the global population lives.
A drab bird with an exuberant display, the Skylark is a common farmland species that has suffered significant declines.
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