ABOVE: This is the Gray’s Lark plate that I painted for my Chamberlain’s LBJs book (click here to link) about four years ago. The juvenile is shown on the left – I have to admit that I was pleased to see that I show the very yellow beak, the greenish yellow orbital ring of bare skin, and the yellowish legs. I also painted some mottling on the crown and face, which is presumably the black downy feathers of the babies moulting out. You’ll agree that the juveniles actually look quite different than the adults (right). Illustration by Faansie Peacock.
ABOVE: This is the slightly darker brown northern race of Gray’ Lark, Ammomanopsis grayi hoeschi, which is found from Cape Cross in Namibia and into southern Angola. The thumbnail illustration shows a bunch of Gray’s Larks with the lookalike Tractrac Chat, one of the very few other birds that inhabits the bare gravel plains of the Namib. Can you tell which is which? Their typical habitat is visible in the background. These illustrations are from my book Chamberlain’s LBJs book (click here for link).
ABOVE: These are study skins from the collection of the Ditsong National Museum of Natural History in Pretoria, showing the two races (subspecies) of Gray’s Lark. The nominate southern race A. grayi grayi is shown at the top, while the darker northern subspecies A. grayi hoeschi is shown at the bottom. Photo by Faansie Peacock.
Gray’s Larks really are special birds. They are a sought-after special for any and all birders visiting Namibia. Fortunately they can be locally abundant within their stark desert habitat. While driving over the endless gravel plains, it often pays off to look in the shade of roadside telephone poles. However, it is only once one stops and gets out of the car when they suddenly appear. What you at first might take for scattered white quartz pebbles suddenly come to life and start scurrying about, as if blown by the wind! The camoflage of Gray’s Larks in this cover-less environment is remarkable, and their plumage is perfectly matched to the colour of the soil and pebbles. Like most other larks, Gray’s are omnivores, with about half the diet consisting of vegetable matter and half consisting of invertebrates. However, young chicks are fed exclusively on insects. They have to work hard to find food, and often bury at the bases of bushes or rocks with their bills, leaving a distinctive pattern in the dirt. They reportedly forage around animal droppings and rodent burrows as well. Indeed, rodent burrows may also offer a refuge from the Namib sun. Heat is also dissipated by standing, often on a low object, with the wings slightly away from the body to expose the thinly feathered flanks and underwings. They seldom drink.
This is a rather social species, and is almost invariably found in family groups or small flocks (average size 3.3, but up to 30). They may also breed co-operatively, or in loose groupings. Paired adults may temporarily leave their group to nest, and rejoin the group once their chicks are old enough to fly. Chicks leave the nest at only 10 days old (thus before they can fly) and follow the adults around on foot. As in most larks, males perform aerial displays at the onset of the breeding season. Perhaps to limit heat stress, song-flights are performed just after sunset and just before dawn and consequently few birders have had the privilege to witness these displays.