The intrinsic muscles of the syrinx fixed to the ends of the bronchial semi-rings; the edges of both mandibles perfectly smooth, except for the presence of a notch in the upper mandible; the hinder part of the tarsus transversely scutellated; the front part of the tarsus also scutellated; wing of nine or ten primaries; tail of twelve feathers ; one moult a year, in the autumn; plumage of the nestling spotted ; sexes usually alike; rictal bristles well-developed ; head usually crested; hind claw usually long.
The Alaudidae or Larks form a group of birds which bear a close general resemblance to the Pipits, but which differ from them, as well as from all other Indian Passeres, in having the hinder part of the tarsus transversely scutellated.
The Larks have only one moult a year, but many undergo a seasonal change of plumage through casting off the margins of the feathers in spring. The variations of colour produced by this, combined with the plain coloration of many of the species, render the study of the Larks rather difficult. Specimens of Larks killed at the same time of the year should therefore be compared with each other. Some of the Larks are subject to much variation in size as well as in colour.
The Larks for the most part frequent open plains and cultivated land, but some are found only in arid deserts, and others again affect the borders of woods. They generally sing whilst soaring in the air, and their song is always agreeable and in many cases fine. Many are migratory, others are resident or very locally migratory. They are generally sociable and occasionally gregarious. They all breed on the ground, constructing a slight grass nest in a hollow, and their eggs are marked with brown.
I have had the great advantage of studying the Larks with Mr. Bowdler Sharpe, who was engaged at the time in writing the Catalogue of these birds. We have in every case arrived at the same conclusions with regard to each species, and the only point on which I subsequently found reason to differ from him was in the suppression of the genus Spizalauda.
Key to the Genera.
a. Nine primaries, the first reaching to about tip of wing.
a1. A tuft of pointed feathers springing from each side of crown………………..OTOCORYS, p. 319.
b1. No tuft of pointed or other feathers springing from side of crown.
a2. The longer secondaries or tertiaries reaching to about tip of wing………………..CALANDRELLA, p. 327.
b2. The longer secondaries or tertiaries falling short of tip of wing by a considerable interval………………..ALAUDULA, p. 330.
b. Ten primaries, the first minute.
c1. First primary large, considerably exceeding the primary-coverts,
c2. Bill as long as, or longer than, the head, and very slender………………..ALAEMON, p. 317.
d2. Bill much shorter than the head, and thick.
a3. Nostrils not covered by plumelets, but clearly visible………………..MIRAFRA, p. 332.
b3. Nostrils quite concealed by dense plumelets………………..AMMOMANES, p. 339.
d1. First primary very small, not exceeding the primary-coverts.
e2. Crest, if any, short, and covering the whole crown.
e3. Hind claw long and straight.
a4. Wings reaching nearly to tip of tail; tertiaries falling short of tip of wing by more than length of tarsus………………..MELANOCORYPHA, p. 322.
b4. Wings falling short of tip of tail by a considerable distance ; tertiaries falling short of tip of wing by less than length of tarsus………………..ALAUDA, p. 324.
d3. Hind claw very short and curved. PYRRHULAUDA, p. 341.
f2. Crest consisting of a few very elongate feathers, springing from
centre of crown………………..GALERITA, p. 336.