Eastern Clapper Lark (Mirafra fasciolata)

Cover image: Eastern Clapper Lark by Gregg Darling – Mountain Zebra National Park, Eastern Cape – BirdPix No. 5436

Identification

The Eastern Clapper Lark is a compact, medium-sized lark. This species has an overall rufous appearance across most of its range, but birds from northern Namibia and northern Botswana are far paler with greyish or sandy brown upperparts and pale sandy-grey underparts. All colour forms have rich rufous flight feathers.

Eastern Clapper Lark identification
Eastern Clapper Lark (Mirafra fasciolata) 
Jagersfontein, Free State
Photo by Dawie De Swardt

The upperparts are beautifully mottled in shades of black, brown and grey. The underparts are plain with indistinct streaking on the breast. The bill is relatively short and stout.

The sexes are alike in plumage colouration but males are slightly larger than females. Juveniles resemble the adults but have pale tips to the feathers on the crown, back and wings.

This species has a distinctive wing-clapping flight display which can greatly assist with identification.

Eastern Clapper Lark in flight
Eastern Clapper Lark (Mirafra fasciolata) in its distinctive flight display.
Aberdeen district, Eastern Cape
Photo by Jorrie Jordaan

The Eastern Clapper Lark can be mistaken for a handful of other species. The closely related Cape Clapper Lark (Mirafra apiata) is smaller, with a darker, more slender bill. It is more heavily barred above with predominantly grey-brown (not rufous) flight feathers. The Rufous-naped Lark (Mirafra africana) is appreciably larger, with a more robust build , a longer, heavier bill and an erectile crest. The Flappet Lark (Mirafra rufocinnamomea) can be differentiated by its smaller size, more slender bill, streaked (not faintly barred) tertials and duller rufous wings.

Eastern Clapper Lark
Eastern Clapper Lark (Mirafra fasciolata) 
Middelburg district, Eastern Cape
Photo by Tino Herselman

Status and Distribution

The Eastern Clapper lark is a southern African near-endemic, reaching beyond the region only into south-western Zambia. Its centre of abundance extends from the Eastern Cape, Free State and the central and eastern parts of the Northern Cape, up through North West province into the Kalahari in Botswana. It is less numerous in western Mpumalanga, western KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng, with scattered records from Namibia. It is a common resident throughout most of its range.

There is no evidence that the distribution of the Eastern Clapper Lark has recently changed. This species is not considered threatened.

SABAP2 distribution map for Eastern Clapper Lark
SABAP2 distribution map for Eastern Clapper Lark (Mirafra fasciolata) – September 2023.
Details for map interpretation can be found here.

Habitat

The Eastern Clapper Lark is mainly a grassland species but also inhabits open, grassy savanna and semi-arid plains provided there is enough grass cover. It prefers dry, and fairly sparse grassland, especially where the grass is tall and there are scattered bushes, termite mounds, boulders and patches of bare ground. It is most abundant in the grassy north-eastern parts of the Nama Karoo biome.

Habitat for Eastern Clapper Lark
Typical grassy Karoo habitat.
Carnarvon district, Northern Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett

Behaviour

The Eastern Clapper Lark is usually encountered solitarily or sometimes in pairs.

Unobtrusive and easily overlooked unless displaying. They are reluctant to flush and prefer to run off quickly when approached. The Eastern Clapper Lark spends most of its time on the ground but can, on occasion, be seen perched on top of a bush, termite mound or fence post.

Forages by walking slowly on flexed legs, with its body close to the ground, pecking items off the floor. Searches at the base of grass tufts and around ants nests and termite mounds. They are known to sometimes follow Aardvarks (Orycteropus afer), investigating their diggings for termites. The diet consists predominantly of insects, including grasshoppers, Northern Harvester Termites (Hodotermes mossambicus), ants and beetles etc. They also consume seeds from various forbs and grasses.

Mirafra fasciolata
Eastern Clapper Lark (Mirafra fasciolata) 
Vlakfontein, Mpumalanga
Photo by Ansie Dee Reis

The Eastern Clapper Lark becomes quite conspicuous during the breeding season when the males perform their distinctive flight displays. Males display mostly in the early morning and late afternoon. During display the male rises steeply from the ground or a low perch, clapping the wings together below the body, he then whistles at the top of the ascent before parachuting to the ground. Additionally, males will often cruises with fluttering wings at about 25 m above ground, displaying repeatedly. The rate of wing clapping is constant and does not accelerate as with the Cape Clapper Lark (Mirafra apiata), nor does it clap in bursts as with the Flappet Lark (Mirafra rufocinnamomea).

The Eastern Clapper Lark is a monogamous, solitary nester. Breeding takes place from late September to January, although this varies according to rainfall in drier regions.

The nest is cup-shaped with a partly or completely domed roof with a side entrance. The nest is placed on the ground, often between tufts of grass or stones. Two or three eggs are laid per clutch but details about the incubation period are unknown. The young leave the nest at 11 days old, before they are able to fly.

Mirafra fasciolata
Eastern Clapper Lark (Mirafra fasciolata) 
Soetdoring Nature Reserve, Free State
Photo by Rick Nuttall

Further Resources

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

The use of photographs by Ansie Dee Reis, Dawie De Swardt, Jorrie Jordaan, Rick Nuttall and Tino Herselman is acknowledged.

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

Other common names: Hoëveldklappertjie (Afrikaans); Alouette fasciée (French); Grasklapperlerche (German)

Recommended citation format: Tippett RM 2023. Eastern Clapper Lark (Mirafra fasciolata) Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available Online at https://thebdi.org/2023/09/19/eastern-clapper-lark-mirafra-fasciolata/

Bird identificationbirding

Mirafra fasciolata
Eastern Clapper Lark (Mirafra fasciolata) 
Middelburg district, Eastern Cape
Photo by Tino Herselman
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!