Streaked Horned Lark
The Streaked Horned Lark was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2013.
Portland's most imperiled bird species
In 2013, the Streaked Horned Lark was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. Less than 2,000 Streaked Horned Larks are left on the planet, warranting the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to declare this species “at risk of becoming endangered in the near future.” Portland will have an important role to play in recovering the species, which lives year-round within Portland city limits and whose wintering range is confined largely to the Willamette Valley.
Streaked Horned Larks are small ground-nesting birds that are easily identified by their yellowish throat, black bib, and notable feather tufts on their heads.
Historically, Streaked Horned Larks were found from southern Oregon into British Columbia. However, extensive loss of the grassland habitat on which the birds depend has jeopardized the species’ continued survival. Today, the Streaked Horned Lark’s range has contracted dramatically, with the core breeding population restricted to the South Puget Sound in the north to the Willamette Valley to the south. A recent demographic modeling study indicates the Washington population is declining precipitously.
Streaked Horned Lark populations remain strongest in the Willamette Valley. Ironically, this species – which prefers sparsely vegetated grasslands for nesting – now substitutes grass seed farms, airport land, undeveloped industrial sites and dredge spoils along the Columbia River for once-common prairies. The largest known Streaked Horned Lark breeding population occurs at the Corvallis Airport. Other breeding populations can be found in undeveloped parcels at Portland International Airport and in Portland’s Rivergate Industrial Area.
The Audubon Society of Portland submitted comments in advance of the proposed ESA listing and the proposed critical habitat designations. We believe this species’ perilous status warrants an endangered rather than threatened designation under the Endangered Species Act. We also believe the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erred by restricting its critical habitat designations almost exclusively to sites where the Streaked Horned Lark currently exists: a species that has already been extirpated from more than half its historic breeding range and that has lost more than 95 percent of its historic breeding habitat will not recover if we cling to the status quo.
To bring this species back from the brink of extinction, agencies and conservation organizations need to pursue an aggressive program to protect and restore prairie habitat and to encourage conservation practices on farmland. This is critical not only for Streaked Horned Larks but also for a variety of other grassland species that are experiencing population declines. Audubon is currently doing its part by working with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and other partners to protect and restore grasslands on Sauvie Island (see our Sauvie Island Grassland Bird Surveys citizen science project) and on Port of Portland land on Government Island. Streaked Horned Lark recovery is also one of the many reasons we are fighting to protect grasslands at risk of development on West Hayden Island. We are also an active participant in the Streaked Horned Lark Working Group, which meets annually to prioritize activities to advance conservation of this species.