Karoo Lark (Calendulauda albescens)

Cover image by Gerald Wingate – Ceres district, Western Cape – BirdPix No. 217927


The Karoo Lark is a small, attractive species with a less robust and more delicate build than other similar larks. The bill is relatively slender and somewhat decurved.

Karoo Lark (Calendulauda albescens) – Montagu district, Western Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett

The facial markings are well defined. The supercilium and the line under the eye form a broad white eye-ring with a black stripe through the middle. Black malar and moustachial stripes are prominent and the ear coverts are dark rufous to brown.

Upperpart colouration is highly variable, ranging from pale sandy brown to dark brown, to rich brick red, and with several shades in-between. Despite this variability, the upperparts are normally well streaked. The underparts are white and are strongly marked. The Karoo Lark has streaked flanks which distinguish it from the similar Red Lark and Barlow’s Lark, both of which normally have unmarked flanks.

Males are larger than females but are otherwise alike.

Juveniles have white tips to the feathers on the upperparts, giving them a spotted appearance.

Karoo Lark (Calendulauda albescens) – Doringbos, Northern Cape
Photo by Karis Daniel

Status and Distribution

The Karoo Lark is a South African endemic. It is restricted to parts of the Northern, Western and Eastern Cape provinces. It is fairly common in the southern and western Karoo as well as in strandveld along the west coast. It is less common in the colder, high elevation shrublands of the central Karoo.

Karoo Lark (Calendulauda albescens) – Clanwilliam district, Western Cape
Photo by Zenobia van Dyk

The range of the Karoo Lark has contracted locally in the southern parts of the Western Cape owing to agriculture. The transformation of renosterveld into wheat lands has undoubtedly removed much of its habitat. Karoo Lark populations may be growing in the northeast of its range, due to local increases in shrubs as a result of overgrazing. It is not adequately protected in existing nature reserves and should be a candidate for conservation attention. Despite this the Karoo Lark is not considered to be threatened.

SABAP2 distribution map for Karoo Lark (Calendulauda albescens) – February 2023.
Details for map interpretation can be found here.


The Karoo Lark prefers relatively tall, open shrublands on sandy soils. This includes dry coastal fynbos, strandveld and Karroid dwarf-shrublands. It occurs in both the Winter and Summer rainfall regions of the Karoo. In stony regions of the Karoo it is largely restricted to dry watercourses where the substrate is sandier and the vegetation may be taller. The Karoo lark also occurs in sparsely vegetated fallow fields but avoids land being actively farmed. It is less common in short shrublands, for example where heavy grazing has trampled the veld.

Habitat – Near Carnarvon, Northern Cape.
Note the sandy soil and presence of taller bushes and shrubs.
Photo by Ryan Tippett


The Karoo Lark may be solitary or found in pairs. It forages on the ground and walks slowly with a hunched posture. Frequently digs with its bill, especially around the base of shrubs. Feeds primarily on seeds, insects and berries. Runs between shrubs in a mouse-like fashion when disturbed, or flies up to perch on a bush.

Karoo Lark (Calendulauda albescens) – Near Springbok, Northern Cape
Photo by J. Terblanche

During display the male sings from the top of a bush or in flight. In display flight the male rises on rapidly beating wings to around 20 m above the ground. The flight is laboured, with slow, deep wing-beats and the tail pointed downwards while calling repeatedly.

The Karoo Lark has an extended breeding season from August to March. It breeds seasonally (August to December) in the Winter rainfall parts of its range and more opportunistically in the central Karoo, which receives erratic Summer rainfall.

The Karoo lark is monogamous and is a territorial, solitary nester. The nest is a cup composed of grass fibres with a domed roof. It is set into a scrape at the base of a plant and is built by both sexes. Clutch size ranges from 2 to 3 eggs but the incubation, nestling and fledging period is unrecorded.

Karoo Lark (Calendulauda albescens) – Near Springbok, Northern Cape
Photo by Maans Booysen

Further Resources

Species text adapted from the first Southern African Bird Atlas Project (SABAP1), 1997.

The use of photographs by Gerald Wingate, J. Terblanche, Karis Daniel, Maans Booysen, Marna Buys and Zenobia van Dyk is acknowledged.

Virtual Museum (BirdPix > Search VM > By Scientific or Common Name).

Other common names: Mirafra albescens; Certhilauda albescens (Alternative Scientific Names); Karoolewerik (Afrikaans); Alouette du Karroo (French); Karrulerche (German); Cotovia do Karoo (Portuguese)

Recommended citation format: Tippett RM 2023. Karoo Lark (Calendulauda albescens) Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available Online at http://thebdi.org/2023/02/23/karoo-lark-calendulauda-albescens/

Bird identificationbirding

Karoo Lark (Calendulauda albescens) – West Coast National Park, Western Cape
Photo by Marna Buys
Ryan Tippett
Ryan Tippett
Ryan is an enthusiastic contributor to Citizen Science and has added many important and interesting records of fauna and flora. He has been a member of the Virtual Museum since 2014 and has currently submitted over 12,000 records. He is on the expert identification panel for the OdonataMAP project. Ryan is a well-qualified and experienced Field Guide, and Guide Training Instructor. He has spent the last 18 years in the guiding and tourism industries. Ryan loves imparting his passion and knowledge onto others, and it is this that drew him into guide training in particular. Something that he finds incredibly rewarding is seeing how people he's had the privilege of teaching have developed and gone on to greater things. His interests are diverse and include Dragonflies, Birding, Arachnids, Amphibians, wild flowers and succulents, free diving and experiencing big game on foot. With this range of interests, there is always likely be something special just around the corner!