Black-crowned sparrow-lark -- 黑顶雀百灵 (Eremopterix nigriceps)

Male black-crowned sparrow-lark
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Black-crowned sparrow-lark fact file

Black-crowned sparrow-lark description

GenusEremopterix (1)

A small lark which resembles a finch (Fringillidae species) in appearance, the black-crowned sparrow-lark is easily recognised by the male’s distinctive black and white head pattern, consisting of a white forehead and cheeks on an otherwise black background (2). The underparts are also black, contrasting with the paler, sandy-brown upperparts and wings, while the tail is dark brown. The legs are pale fleshy-pink, and the beak is bluish-white and rather stubby in shape (2). The female black-crowned sparrow-lark lacks the distinctive head pattern of the male, and is much duller in appearance, with a largely greyish-brown body, a dark underwing and a greyish beak. The juvenile resembles the adult female, but the feathers on the upperparts have more buffy margins, giving a slightly scaled appearance (2).

The black-crowned sparrow-lark shows fairly gradual differences in appearance across its range, with body size generally increasing from west to east. Four subspecies are recognised (Eremopterix nigriceps nigriceps, Eremopterix nigriceps albifrons, Eremopterix nigriceps melanauchen and Eremopterix nigriceps affinis), which vary mainly in the extent of the male’s white forehead patch, as well as in size and in the colour of the upperparts (2).

Also known as
black-crowned finch lark, black-crowned finch-lark, black-crowned sparrow lark, white-crested finch-lark, white-crested sparrow-lark, white-fronted finch-lark, white-fronted sparrow-lark.
Alouette-moineau à front blanc.
Length: 10 - 11 cm (2)
12 - 16 g (2)

Black-crowned sparrow-lark biology

The black-crowned sparrow-lark feeds mainly on the seeds of grasses and other plants, but will also take insects and other invertebrates. The chicks are fed predominantly on a diet of insects. Most foraging takes place in the early morning and evening, and food is usually taken from the ground, although insects are sometimes caught in the air (2). In the heat of the day, the black-crowned sparrow-lark reduces water loss by seeking shade, and has even been known to shelter inside the burrows of large lizards (2) (4). It will also attempt to lose heat by flying with the legs dangling, or by perching facing into the wind, with the wings drooped (2).

Outside of the breeding season, the black-crowned sparrow-lark may forage in flocks of up to 50 individuals, although flocks of several thousand also sometimes occur. During the breeding season, the male performs aerial displays over the breeding territory, rising steeply from the ground before circling and calling, then descending in a series of shallow swoops. Both members of a breeding pair will sometimes display together, the male chasing the female in a twisting, low flight. In addition to the tchip or cherp calls given by both sexes, the male has a rather variable song, typically consisting of a short series of simple, sweet notes, given during the flight display or from a low vantage point (2).

The black-crowned sparrow-lark usually breeds during the summer months, although breeding is often associated with rainfall and can occur at almost any time when conditions are favourable. The female builds the nest, which consists of a shallow depression lined with twigs, grass stems, leaves and other material, with the rim often decorated with small stones or lumps of earth. The nest is usually located at the base of a shrub or a grass tuft, in a shaded position. Both the male and female incubate the 2 to 3 eggs, which hatch after around 11 to 12 days. The chicks start to leave the nest for short periods when just six days old, long before they are able to fly, and usually leave it entirely at eight days old. Within a day of the young leaving the nest, each adult takes sole responsibility for one chick, and the chicks separate, possibly to reduce the risk of predation. When three eggs have hatched, the third chick does not often survive. The young black-crowned sparrow-larks are able to fly after around 21 or 22 days and reach maturity at about a year old (2).


Black-crowned sparrow-lark range

The black-crowned sparrow-lark occurs across North Africa, through the Arabian Peninsula and into Pakistan and India (2) (3). E. n. nigriceps is found on the Cape Verde Islands, off the coast of West Africa; E. n. albifrons occurs from Mauritania and Senegal east to Sudan; E. n. melanauchen occurs from east Sudan to southern Iraq, Kuwait and the Arabian Peninsula, and south to Somalia and Socotra; and E. n. affinis occurs from southeast Iran to Pakistan and northwest India (2). In some areas, this species may undertake regular migrations; for example, some populations move north in the summer rainy season to breed in the Sahel and northern Arabia. Most populations also undertake some local movements in response to changing conditions (2).


Black-crowned sparrow-lark habitat

The black-crowned sparrow-lark inhabits arid and semi-arid plains with scattered grass and other low vegetation. It appears to prefer areas with sandy rather than rocky soil, and has also been recorded around saline pans (undrained natural depressions in which water accumulates, leaving behind salt deposits when it evaporates) (2).


Black-crowned sparrow-lark status

Classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern


Black-crowned sparrow-lark threats

This small lark is a common and widespread species, and is not currently considered at risk of extinction (3). It may be able to tolerate some degree of grazing pressure within its arid habitats, and desertification in West Africa appears to have allowed the species to extend its range southwards (2).


Black-crowned sparrow-lark conservation

There are no specific conservation measures currently in place for this widespread species.

Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi is a principal sponsor of ARKive. EAD is working to protect and conserve the environment as well as promoting sustainable development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

To find out more about the black-crowned sparrow-lark see:



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A process of sustained decline of the biological productivity of arid and semiarid land; the end-result is desert, or skeletal soil that is irrecoverable.
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a colony.


  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2010)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Christie, D. (2004) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 9: Cotingas to Pipits and Wagtails. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. BirdLife International (September, 2010)
  4. Williams, J.B., Tieleman, B.I. and Shobrak, M. (1999) Lizard burrows provide thermal refugia for larks in the Arabian Desert. The Condor, 101: 714-717.

Image credit

Male black-crowned sparrow-lark  
Male black-crowned sparrow-lark

© Hanne & Jens Eriksen /

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