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African Zoology

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Biology of larks (Aves: Alaudidae) in the central Namib Desert

Ernest J. Willoughby

Abstract


1. The biology of six species of larks in the Namib Desert near Walvis Bay, South West Africa, was studied in 1964, 1965 and 1966.

2. All species reproduced following rainfall in summer and autumn months, with the appearance of green grass and abundant insects on which the birds fed.

3. The primarily insectivorous species, Certhilauda albofasciata, shows no seasonality in moulting and testicular development, and reproduces whenever local rainfall results in favourable feeding and nesting circumstances, while the primarily granivorous Spizoeorys starki and Eremopterix verticalis have markedly seasonal testicular and moulting cycles timed so that reproduction occurs only during the late summer and autumn months. Ammomanes grayi is intermediate in food habits and in timing of moulting and reproduction, and C. albescens and Mirafra naevia may also be intermediate in this respect.

4. S. starki and E. verticalis are the only larks that normally drink, but flocks of both species were observed that were independent of drinking water.

5. Larks avoid heat stress during daytime by keeping to the shade of stones, tufts of vegetation and mouths of rodent burrows; and nests are nearly always placed on the shady side of a stone' or tuft of grass.

6. It is suggested that larks may be successful desert occupants because they have not become highly specialized and therefore can tolerate rapidly and severely changing environ-mental conditions associated with drought and irregular rainfall




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