You are currently viewing 24 Larks and Sparrow-Larks in East Africa from common to rare
Thekla Lark at Lake Turkana

Larks and Sparrow-Larks in East Africa

Order: Passeriformes
is the largest order of birds in the Class Aves. It contains over 140 families with 6.500 identified bird species world wide. They are also called perching birds. 3 toes point forward, 1 backwards called hallux and is long. This is called anisodactyl arrangement. This toe constellation makes it easier to hold on to a branch, twig, wire or blade of grass.

A further adaptation for perching is a tendon running on the rear side of the leg to the underside of the toes is attached to the muscle behind the Tibiotarsus (the large bone between femur and tarsometatarsus). This makes the feet curl automatically once the leg is bent and becomes stiff when landing on a branch. So they can sleep without falling down and using valuable energy.

Bird feet

Passerines are insectivorous or omnivorous meaning feeding on insects, small vertebrates, fruits, seeds and nectar. Omnivorous birds change to more carnivorous during breeding season. Plant material has less protein which is required for the chicks to grow fast and strong.

The name Passeriformes derives from Greek – Passer = Sparrow, Formis = shape. They originated in the Southern Hemisphere around 60 Mio years ago.
Most Passerines have 12 tail feathers.

The eggs are coloured in most species. The number of eggs vary from species to species. The chicks are altricial meaning they hedge blind, without feathers and are helpless. They have reflexes to sense when a parent is landing and open their beak wide to get fed. The beak is fringed with yellow skin to signal the feeding parent where to place food.

Superfamily: Sylvioidea contains around 1.300 bird species. Swallows, Old World Warblers, Larks and Bulbuls are some of them.

Family: Alaudidae – Larks

This family contains mainly brown small to starling seized birds. They live in open savanna and feed on the ground. Their lovely songs can be heard when they perch on a branch or a stone or during their flight display. There are different genera in the family Alaudidae in East Africa. Many have quite strong, slightly curved bills. The length of the tail depends on the species. Some lark species have a long rear claw.

Many species look very similar. Ornithologists use their songs to identify them together with typical features and distribution area. It is advisable to travel with an experienced birding guide to identify the different species. The length and shape of the rear claw can also give a clue of the species. Beaks are usually quite long and curved. The shape and length can help with the identification.

Larks are found almost on all continents, but the highest number of species is in Africa.

Many species have restricted distribution areas and are divided into subspecies. Some are even endemic in Kenya or East Africa or the Horn of Africa.

They are feeding on insects and seeds. They build their nest on the ground which makes them quite vulnerable. Sexual dimorphism is generally minimal. Larks don’t hop on the ground, they walk. They put one foot in front of the other. 

Special in Alaudidae is that they have multiple scutes on the hind side of their tarsi, rather than one single scute as in other song birds.

The habitats range from savanna, grassland, semi arid areas to deserts. Some, like William’s Lark prefers black lava, others sandy or stony ground. A few migrate but many are residents.

To give you as actual information as possible we use Avibase, the books “Birds of Africa South of the Sahara”, “Birds of East Africa”, “Birds of Kenya and Northern Tanzania”. Then we put the most characteristic information to the photo.

You can also follow us on Facebook “Bird photography Safaris Kenya” and see the numerous species as well as the beautiful photos from Lorenzo Barelli.
Click on the photo for larger view. The names of the photographers are on the photo and in the text. Without the generosity of several amazing bird photographers it had not been possible to create the pages with so many illustrated bird species. Those photos without name are from Elvira Wolfer.

Here you find samples of our birding safaris. We will guide you to find the lark species you like to see. For example the William’s Lark is best find on black lava fields in Shaba National Reserve, while the Thekla Lark is around Lake Turkana.

The distribution area and habitat of each species is mentioned below.

Melodious Lark (Mirafra cheniana) is more SA species but it has a tiny distribution area in Masai Mara and Serengeti. It is quite newly listed since it most likely had been overlooked.

White-tailed Lark (Mirafra albicauda) is locally uncommon from 600 – 2.000 m. They are attracted to black cotton soil which is found in the Rift Valley, Masai Mara, Serengeti, W Uganda, SW Tanzania.

Horsfield’s Bushlark (Mirafra javanica marginata) is endemic in NE Africa. It is found in open grassland with scattered bushes. Photo Jacques Pitteloud

William’s Lark (Mirafra williamsi) has only a very small distribution area on black Lava fields in Marsabit region. A good spot to find it is in Shaba. 1 of the Kenya endemic species. Photo Lorenzo Barelli

Friedmann’s Lark (Mirafra pulpa) is a rare species. It appears mainly after good rain in S Kenya (Tsavo E + W, Taita Conservancy). Rare sightings are from Shaba National Reserve. Photo Moses Kandie

Red-winged Lark (Mirafra h. hypermetra) occurs in low areas up to 1.350 m in dry bushland where it is common. Endemic to Somalia, Kenya and N Tanzania. The subspecies kidepoensis is found in S Sudan and NE Uganda.

Rufous-naped Lark (Mirafra africana) is common and widespread in grassland and savanna in Africa. 6 races occur in East Africa with little or no rufous on the nape. M. a. ruwenzoria – Rwenzori Rufous-nape Lark is greyer and found in SW Uganda.

Rufous-naped Lark (Mirafra africana nigrescens) is found in S Tanzania in Njombe region. Photo Per Holmen, Kitulo National Park

Rufous-naped Lark (Mirafra africana tropicalis) occurs from W Uganda, SW Kenya to W Tanzania. Masai Mara

Sentinel Lark (Corypha athi) was for a long time considered a subspecies of Rufous-naped Lark. It got split in 2023 to its own species. Highlands of Kenya and N Tanzania. Nakuru National Park

Flappet Lark (Mirafra rufocinnamomea torrida) is found from N Uganda, N + C Kenya to C Tanzania. M. r. fischeri is a coastal subspecies in Kenya and Tanzania. M. r. kawirodenis is occurs from W Uganda, to W Kenya and N Tanzania. Status: threatened

Collared Lark or Collared Bushlark (Mirafra collaris) is endemic in NE Horn of Africa and NE Kenya. It is common within a very limited range on red sandy soil.

Angola Lark (Mirafra angolensis marungensis) is in East Africa only known in SW Tanzania near Mumba.

Foxy (Abyssinian) Lark (Calendulauda alopex interdedens) is an endemic bird of semi arid areas from 500 – 1.800 m in NE Africa. This subspecies is found in Ethiopia, Somalia, E Uganda, Kenya and N Tanzania. Lewa Conservancy

Gillett’s Lark (Mirafra g. gilletti) is very rare in extrem NE Kenya at at the Somalia border. It is more common in E Ethiopia and NW Somalia.

Pink-breasted Lark (Calendulauda poecilosterna) is found from 150 – 1.800 m in Ethiopia, E Uganda, Kenya and N Tanzania. Photos Lorenzo Barelli und Elvira Wolfer

Masked Lark (Spizocorys personata) has 3 subspecies in the deserts of Northern Kenya. S. p. yavelloensis S Ethiopia to N Kenya, S. p. intensa C Kenya, S. p. mcchesneyi on Marsabit Plateau. Photo Chege wa Kariuki

Beesley’s Lark (Chersomanes beesleyi) only occurs in a Maasai Steppe North of Mt. Meru in Tanzania. It was a formerly considered a subspecies to Spike-heeled Lark in Southern Africa. It is prefers white soil Photo Per Holmen

Short-tailed Lark (Spizocorys fremantlii delameiri) lives on short grass and burnt areas from 1.000 – 1.700 m in S Kenya and N Tanzania. The subspecies S. f. megaensis occurs in N Kenya and S Ethiopia. Photo Lorenzo Barelli, Amboseli National Park

Crested Lark (Galerida cristata somaliensis) is found in Turkana region in sandy deserts from 400 – 900 m. Usually they are in pairs in N Kenya, S Ethiopia, N Somalia. Loiyangalani at Lake Turkana

Thekla Lark (Galerida theklae huriensis). This subspecies is found in very N Kenya (Turkana / Marsabit region and S Ethiopia from 400 – 1.300 m in lava deserts. Photo Jacques Pitteloud

Rufous-rumped Lark (Pinacrocorys erythropygia) occurs in the Sahel Zone in Acacia bushland. In E Africa it is only found in NW Uganda.

Dusky Lark (Pinacrocorys n. nigricans) is in E Africa mainly found in Miombo Woodland in SW and W Tanzania but also on open grassland up to S Uganda. Photo Per Holmen

Red-capped Lark (Calandrella cinerea williamsi) is patchy distributed from Central Kenya to N Tanzania on short grass from 950 – 3.000 m. The subspecies C. c. saturiator is found in W Tanzania, DRC etc. Ol Pejeta Conservancy

Athi short-toed lark (Alaudala athensis) occurs in S Kenya and N Tanzania on short grass plains. Photo Per Holmen, near Mount Meru

Somali short-toed Lark (Alaudala somalica megaensis) is endemic to S Ethiopia and N Kenya. They are found in flocks on grassland from 1.200 – 1850 m.

Chestnut-headed Sparrow-Lark (Eremopterix s. signatus) is endemic in NE Africa in semi arid areas with stones, lava and short grass from sea level to 1.500 m. Photo Lorenzo Barelli, Samburu National Reserve. The subspecies E. s. harrisoni is found in NW Kenya and SE South Sudan

Fischer’s Sparrow-Lark or Fischer’s Finch-Lark (Eremopterix leucopareia) occurs from Kenya to Malawi in semi-deserts and savanna. Locally common in small flocks. Amboseli National Park

Chestnut-backed Sparrow-Lark or Finch-Lark (Eremopterix leucotis madaraszi) is resident and migrant from S Somalia to Kenya to N Malawi from sea level to 1.800 m. They like burnt areas where they might show up in large numbers. Photos Doris Schaule