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Walking in a winter wonderland

December 15, 2013
Kevin Williams - Grundy County Conservation Director , Reinbeck Courier

Well folks, winter is here isn't it. And as I sit and write this it truly is a winter wonderland outside the window. A white blanket of snow covers everything. The sun is shining brightly and if it wasn't for the fact that it is 0 degrees and a blowing wind of 15 miles per hour, I'd be enjoying everything about it.

For this week's column, I am going to borrow a line from the song Walking In A Winter Wonderland. It goes something like this gone away is the bluebird, here to stay is a new bird. Except for the hardiest of bluebirds and many other of our summer residents they have traveled to warmer climates.

Every winter I look forward to seeing a few of our winter migrants. It is the only time we get to see birds like juncos, snow buntings and the topic of this column - horned larks. It is interesting that horned larks (Eremophila alpestris) are present and nest here in Iowa in the summer. When fall comes, however, most of these birds fly south and a large influx of two subspecies of northern migrants who find this area to their liking.

Horned larks are always on the move -foraging on the ground for seeds and other morsels. They utilize the roadside edge or shoulder for much of this foraging so that means we get to see them for flashes of time as we speed by in our vehicles. Sometimes they will flock up with snow buntings another bird seen commonly along our road edges in the winter. They fly up in the air together in the flock, circle and then land quickly on the roadside edge again.

A neat nickname for these small birds are bat-eared larks. They have two tufts of feathers that when extended reminded someone of bat ears. And I'll admit that since reading that, now all I can think of is Batman's cowl from the old TV series. That is really the only thing that reminds me of Batman because the males have a black mustache and buttery-yellow chin that make them quite beautiful.

Horned larks run along the ground rather than hop. The claw on the back toe is straight rather than curved. This is called the larkspur and characteristic of larks.

While there are several subspecies, it is interesting to note that horned larks are found northern Alaska to Mexico. They are found in Columbia, across Europe, northern Asia and even northern Africa.



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