Interlude: The Lark

Politics, politics, politics. Time for a bird post.

Larks. Larks are awesome.

As an American transplanted to Europe, I didn’t encounter larks until recently. (The American “meadowlark” is a completely unrelated bird.) And I wasn’t really prepared for it. I mean, I knew about the Shelley poem and all, but… yeah yeah, a bird that sings, big deal.

Then I saw my first lark display.

For non-European readers: the lark’s display is to fly into a headwind and mount slowly up to a hundred meters or so. Then hover — which, since it’s a passerine bird, and they don’t
do hovering, means flying straight into the wind at windspeed. All the while singing, singing, singing like mad. Larks sing loudly and they don’t stop. The sheer energy involved is startling, as is the recklessness — lark habitat is open fields, heaven for hawks.

In human terms, imagine riding a mountain bike up a steep slope of several hundred meters, as fast as you possibly can, without stopping. Then, once at then top, riding in circles on the back wheel while singing a complete operetta, start to finish. Add that the mountain is haunted by machete-wielding serial killers, one of whom may jump out of the bushes at any time.

Now do this ten or twenty times a day.

It’s the behavioral equivalent of a peacock tail fully unfurled. And has much the same effect on
a human viewer! It’s not the most insane bird display I’ve seen, quite — that award goes to the Micronesian kingfisher, which displays by slamming itself into trees repeatedly — but it’s by far the most jaw-dropping awesome.

The lark itself is nothing much to look at — it’s a brownish bird of medium size. But that’s normal; birds with spectacular displays are usually pretty bland in appearance. (The opposite is not always true, but this post is long enough already.)

Throwaway fact about larks: most Indo-European languages use cognate words for this bird (German Laerch, Latin alauda, French alouette, etc.) But the underlying root word does not seem to be Indo-European! It’s one of a small group of words that seem to come from a pre-Indo-European substrate language.

European bird stuff: what’ve you got?

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About Douglas Muir

American with an Irish passport. Does development work for a big international donor. Has been living in Eastern Europe for the last six years -- first Serbia, then Romania, and now Armenia. Calls himself a Burkean conservative, which would be a liberal in Germany but an unhappy ex-Republican turned Democrat in the US. Husband of Claudia. Parent of Alan, David, Jacob and Leah. Likes birds. Writes Halfway Down The Danube. Writes Halfway Down The Danube.

One thought on “Interlude: The Lark

  1. At 19, I spent the summer working on a farm in Bavaria, and one of my strongest memories of that time is the larks singing. (“laerchen” == “larks”, right? Otherwise I’ve been mistakenly thinking all these years it was larks. — Oh yes, I see you mention that in your post.) They completely dominated the soundscape of the fields. I don’t remember what they looked like though.