Streaked Horned Lark

The Streaked Horned Lark is Portland’s most imperiled bird species with less than 2,000 left. Listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2013, the species precariously hangs on despite continued habitat loss and degradation exacerbated by weak regulatory protections due to key exemptions in the ESA listing. Portland Audubon is helping fight for this species’ survival by advocating for the development of a strong recovery plan and habitat protections.

Streaked Horned Lark, photo by Scott Carpenter

Threats to Streaked Horned Larks and Grassland Birds

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. This species prefers sparsely vegetated grasslands and prairies for nesting. Historically these habitats were created through natural processes including fires and river channel shifts. Now the birds depend largely on human-modified habitats including grass seed farms, airport land, undeveloped industrial sites and dredge spoil islands. Unfortunately, because the species is listed as “threatened” (not endangered) under the ESA, the 4(d) rule relaxes lark protections at airports and farmlands. Restrictions on limiting “critical habitat” designation to sites the larks currently occupy additionally hamper this species recovery. The world population estimate for Streaked Horned Larks stands at approximately 1,600 individuals.

Streaked Horned Larks are emblematic of the overall decrease in a number of grassland bird species in western Oregon. A 2010 Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife study documented declines in Western Meadowlark and Oregon Vesper Sparrow in the Willamette Valley. Oregon’s Conservation Strategy lists a number of Willamette Valley grassland-dependent species as species of concern including the Grasshopper Sparrow, Oregon Vesper Sparrow, Streaked Horned Lark, Short-eared Owl, and Western Meadowlark. Across the U.S. grassland birds have declined dramatically with one third of species on the State of the Birds Watchlist.

Our Work to Protect Streaked Horned Larks and Grassland Birds

Portland Audubon believes the Streaked Horned Lark’s perilous status warrants an endangered rather than threatened designation under the Endangered Species Act and we advocated for this during the listing process. We are a member of the Streaked Horned Lark Working Group and we are working locally at Sauvie Island and elsewhere in the Portland Metro region to support restoration and protection of grasslands.

How you can help

  • Stay tuned for action alerts for public comment on the draft U.S. Fish and Wildlife Streaked Horned Lark Recovery Plan
  • Support efforts to restore grassland habitats
  • Volunteer on the Streaked Horned Lark Patrol Community Science project