Cape Clapper Lark (Mirafra apiata)

Cover image of Cape Clapper Lark by Gerald Wingate – Near Mamre, Western Cape – BirdPix No. 87574


Cape Clapper Lark ID guide
Cape Clapper Lark (Mirafra apiata) 
Swaynekloof, Western Cape
Photo by Keir Lynch

The Cape Clapper Lark is a fairly small, compact lark with rather beautiful yet cryptic plumage and the sexes are alike. Juveniles are less clearly barred than adults with a browner appearance and the feathers on the upperparts have pale margins, giving a scaly appearance.

In adults the upperparts (mantle and folded wings) are intricately patterned in chestnut with dark brown to black barring and broad grey trim. The chin and throat are off-white with dark brown speckling. The rest of the underparts are warm buffy-rufous with darker rufous streaking on the lower breast and some blackish streaks on the upper breast. The flight feathers are grey-brown (not rufous) and the rump and central tail feathers are barred.

Cape Clapper Lark
Cape Clapper Lark (Mirafra apiata) 
Bushmanskloof, Western Cape
Photo by Zenobia van Dyk

The face is fairly plain buff with small, dark brown streaks. The bill is brownish-grey, paler at the base and is relatively small and slender.

The Cape Clapper Lark is only likely to be mistaken for the closely related Eastern Clapper Lark Mirafra fasciolata which is larger, with a paler, heavier bill, less conspicuous barring on the upperparts which are also more rufous, and with bright rufous (not grey-brown) flight feathers.

Juvenile Cape Clapper Lark
Cape Clapper Lark (Mirafra apiata) Juvenile.
Soetendalsvlei area, Western Cape
Photo by Tino Herselman

Status and Distribution

The Cape Clapper lark is a common resident and a South African endemic.

Its range stretches from the western part of the Northern Cape (possibly also southern Namibia), extending south and east through Namaqualand, the western Great Karoo (around the edges of the winter rainfall zone) and the Western Cape to the vicinity of Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) and Makhanda (Grahamstown), in the Eastern Cape. The range in the Eastern Cape may overlap slightly with that of the Eastern Clapper Lark but the extent of this is not yet fully understood.

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

SAABP2 distrubtion map Cape Clapper Lark
SABAP2 distribution map for Cape Clapper Lark (Mirafra apiata) – September 2023.
Details for map interpretation can be found here.


The Cape Clapper Lark prefers fairly tall and dense, scrubby vegetation, including mesic and arid fynbos, mountain fynbos, renosterveld and succulent Karoo. It is also present but uncommon in strandveld vegetation along the coast. This species has adapted to fallow fields, provided there is enough vegetative cover and occasionally also inhabits dense cereal crops that adjoin its natural habitat.

Typical habitat in the Succulent Karoo, seen during the Spring flowering season.
Near Vanrhynsdorp, Western Cape
Photo by Ryan Tippett


The Cape Clapper Lark is typically found solitarily or in pairs. It is a rather secretive bird and is most often seen during its distinctive display flight, or sometimes when it perches on top of a bush, rock, termite mound or fence post.

Mirafra apiata
Cape Clapper Lark (Mirafra apiata) 
Near Mamre, Western Cape
Photo by Gerald Wingate

Spends much of its time on the ground and is reluctant to flush, preferring to run away from intruders. Once flushed, it usually drops back onto the ground, but occasionally lands on a bush or similar perch.

The Cape Clapper Lark forages on the ground especially around the base of shrubs or grass tufts. Primarily feeds on insects and the seeds of grasses and shrubs. They are also known to consume the occasional small fruit or berry when available.

Mirafra apiata
Cape Clapper Lark (Mirafra apiata) 
Klein Winterhoek
Photo by Rick Nuttall

The Cape Clapper Lark is a monogamous, solitary nester and is likely to be territorial, at least during the breeding season. Males become conspicuous at the onset of breeding, owing to their highly distinctive display flight. Displaying males take off from the ground or from a perch in a steep ascent while clapping the wings together below the body. The rate of clapping increases during this ascent and reaches an astonishing 25 beats per second before he whistles and then floats back down to the ground.

Mirafra apiata
Cape Clapper Lark (Mirafra apiata) during its distinctive flight display.
Near Genadendal, Western Cape
Photo by Stuart Shearer

Very little is known about the breeding behaviour of the Cape Clapper Lark. The nest is a cup of grass, lined with fine plant material and sometimes bits of wool. The nest is built into a hollow in the ground at the base of a grass tuft tuft and is partly domed over from the back with grass.

Eggs are laid between August and November with a peak during September and October. The eggs are off-white or slightly green-grey with dense brown to purple blotches and spots. Two to three eggs are laid per clutch. Unfortunately further details regarding the incubation and nestling period are unrecorded.

Further Resources

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

The use of photographs by Gerald Wingate, Keir Lynch, Rick Nuttall, Stuart Shearer, Tino Herselman and Zenobia van Dyk is acknowledged.

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

Other common names: Kaapse klappertjie (Afrikaans); Alouette bateleuse (French); Kap-Grasklapperlerche (German); Klapperleeuwerik (Dutch); Cotovia-batedora (Portuguese).

Recommended citation format: Tippett RM 2023. Cape Clapper Lark (Mirafra apiata) Biodiversity and Development Institute. Available Online at

Bird identificationbirding

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!