The Lark Bunting is actually a North American sparrow. Breeding males are distinctive, with all-black plumage set off by a large white patch on the upper wing. Nonbreeding males and females are grayish brown with white striping.
Lark Buntings forage on the ground, mainly taking insects, especially grasshoppers. They eat seeds in winter, when they often congregate in large flocks. They prefer grassland with some shrub cover for nesting; the nest, a loose bowl of grass, fine roots, and plant stems, is on the ground. Populations in any given area may fluctuate depending on precipitation levels.
Christmas Bird Counts and Breeding Bird Surveys show this handsome bird to be one of the fastest declining in the United States; habitat loss and fragmentation, pesticide poisoning, and overgrazing are the chief causes. Livestock water tanks also pose risks; large numbers of buntings in search of a drink often drown or fall prey to domestic cats lurking around tanks.
Important conservation measures needed for the Lark Bunting include protecting and restoring native grasslands, delaying mowing of hayfields until after the breeding season to prevent destruction of nests, and minimizing pesticide use.