(1205) Alaemon alaudipes doriae.
The Persian Desert-Lark.
Certhilauda doriae Salvad., Atti R. Accad. Torino, iii, p. 292 (1867) (Persia). Algernon desertorum. Blanf. & Oates, ii, p. 318.
Vernacular names. None recorded.
Description. Upper plumage isabelline grey, more grey on the head and neck, more sandy on the back; longer tail-coverts with dark shafts; central tail-feathers sandy-brown with darker centres, black shafts and pale fulvous edges ; outer tail-feathers black edged with fulvous, the outermost with a broad white edge to the outer web ; wing-coverts brown, edged with sandy-fulvous, the greater coverts tipped white; the first few primaries dark brown, all but the first, or first and second, with white bases ; inner primaries and outer secondaries white, with a broad patch of dark brown on the centre of the outer webs; inner secondaries like the back with darker centres and dark brown shafts; a short supercilium and round the eye white; a line through the eye dark brown ; cheeks and ear-coverts fulvous, with a blackish patch at the base of the hitter: lower parts dull white, tinged more strongly with fulvous on the breast and flanks; the throat, fore-neck and breast boldly spotted with dark brown.
Colours of soft parts. Iris brown ; bill horny greenish-grey, pale plumbeous or pale brown above, paler and more fleshy below; legs and feet china-white, claws greenish.
Measurements. - Male. Wing 129 to 137 mm.; tail 83 to 99 mm.; tarsus 34 to 37 mm.; culmen 27 to 29 mm.
The female is much smaller; wing 116 to 119 mm.; culmen about 24 mm.
In Summer the plumage becomes very abraded and the spots below are much more prominent.
Young birds have no spots on the breast and the upper parts are barred with blackish-brown and with pale edges to each feather; wings and tail as in the adult.
Nestling in down pure white.
Distribution. Cutch, Sind, Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Mesopotamia and Persia.
Nidification. This fine Lark breeds in the deserts of Sind and also on the bare rocky uplands of Afghanistan to Persia. So little has been recorded about its breeding that I quote in full a letter from Mr. T. B. Bell in which he gives a most interesting account. "They are not rare about Karachi but are scattered over a vast extent of ground. They breed in the desert where there are no trees and little vegetation beyond stunted tamarisk and Sueda bushes with scattered tufts of withered grass. Here, if the male is watched for, the nest will soon be found as he displays constantly in the breeding-season and, within a very little distance of where he alights after his display, the nest will be found. Nor, when once one knows what to look for, is it in the least difficult to find. Scattered about over the plains and sand-hills are numerous little hillocks, each crowned by a scrubby bush or two, the basal half buried in the sand and the flat top mixed with wind-blown debris. Here the Desert-Lark builds his large untidy nest of grass, leaves and soft twigs on a basis of larger twigs, roots and drift. The lining is of finer grass, roots and twigs mixed with a few feathers. The nest is generally placed on the shady side of the bush but sometimes right in the middle on the top where there is no shade at all. The bird has no real song but before rising on his aerial display utters two loud whistling notes, then three others in a lower key and finally as he flutters up into the air and descends again with wide-spread wings he utters a continuous little tee-tee-tee, starting on the highest note and then continuing in a descending scale. Occasionally he utters this little attempt at a song when perched on a bush." The eggs are two or three in number. The ground-colour is either pure white or, exceptionally, creamy or pale buff, with sparse scattered primary blotches, spots or specks of reddish-brown with secondary marks of lavender and grey. Generally the markings are more numerous at the larger end, where they may form a rough ring. In shape the eggs are long, rather pointed ovals and twenty-five average 23.7 X 17.2 mm. : maxima 25.9 x 17.6 and 25.6 x 18.3 mm.; minima 22.0 X 16.7 mm. They breed in May and June but Col, Buchanan took a nest with two eggs on the Afghan Frontier on the 26th April whilst in Mesopotamia they breed in March.
Habits. This Lark is a bird of deserts and stony wastes where they spend practically their whole time on the ground, running about with wonderful speed but flying comparatively indifferently. They feed on beetles, beetle larvae, insects and seeds and twice Ticehurst found pearls in their stomachs. These birds had been feeding on the Ghizera creek, once the site of a pearl-fishing centre and the pearls had possibly been picked up with gravel to assist digestion. It is a resident bird wherever it is found. The young are said to leave the nest and run about with their parents before they can fly.