Because of the mild winter and warm spring, the Wyoming Horned Lark has made an earlier than usual return to the sage flats of Wyoming. A true rara avis, the Wyoming Horned Lark, (Hornophila alpestris) is a relatively rare subspecies of the more common Horned Lark (Eremophila alpestris). Whereas the Horned Lark is common in open areas, feeds on seeds foraged from the ground, and is frequently found in flocks of hundreds, the Wyoming Horned Lark is relatively solitary, feeds on insects, and is extremely uncommon.
While it is impossible to know for sure, the speculation is that the Wyoming Horned Lark originated in Texas (where it still winters) and followed cattle herds being driven up to Wyoming in the late 1800’s, preying on insects stirred up by the large herds. Certainly, the Wyoming Horned Lark does not appear in either the bead work or pictographs of the Shoshone, Arapahoe, or Bannock, nor do they appear in any origin stories.
Like its better known cousin, the Wyoming Horned Lark has a pale brown plumage, with a striking black mask and prominent black breast band. A pale yellow throat highlights the mask and adds a refreshing touch of color to an otherwise drab bird. However, what distinguishes the Wyoming Horned Lark is the presence of horns used for hunting. Extremely light and needle sharp, the horns are used to impale flying insects.
Fortunately, the Wyoming Horned Lark population has been growing over the last decade as a result of increased oil and gas activity in the state.
Although Wyoming Game and Fish is reluctant to publicize their presence, look for them in the oil patch. Because the Wyoming Horned Lark likes to hunt from a perch, resting pumper units and utility poles provide excellent launching platforms. Service vehicles, as well as seismic testing, stir up insects and provide excellent hunting. Adults frequently return to a nest of hungry hatchlings with their horns festooned with grasshoppers like a shish kebab.