WOODLARK (Lullula arborea)

Alouette lulu

The Woodlark is the only species in the genus Lullula, and it is a pretty scarce bird in Switzerland (probably less than 500 pairs), occurring only spasmodically in the central Jura and parts of the Valais. Since it prefers open rough ground at the edge of forest this scarcity is undoubtedly due to habitat destruction for agriculture. The Woodlark population of Europe as a whole underwent a major decline between 1970 and 1990, but seemed to stabilise after that, probably as conservation efforts seem to have met with some success. The total population in Europe (which is 75% of its breeding range) still exceeds 1.3m and so it is not listed as an endangered species, but neither can it be described as a common bird. The Swiss Bird Index shows the population as stable but it is listed as vulnerable on the Swiss Red List.

It is a pity it is not more common because it has a beautiful song. Like the Skylark it nests on the ground and the song is usually delivered in flight, but it may also sing from a tree, or a wire or even a mound on the ground. In song flight it spirals upwards and downwards singing as it moves in circles. The song is a complex series of liquid notes which pour out, each phrase tends to fall slightly in pitch which gives it a rather melancholy feeling. The notes are quite varied but all the books tell us that they match the phrase "lulu" hence the generic name and the name in French, you can decide for yourself how accurate this is. But the song is distinctive.

I have not recorded it in Switzerland, the following piece was taken in Norfolk UK:

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As you can hear the song is very liquid and somewhat melancholy, the phrases vary a lot however and to give you an idea I show here two sonograms taken from different sections of that recording.

In this first example you can distinctly see and hear the decline in pitch from about 4 Khz to around 3.2 Khz in the first two phrases, it is a little harder to distinguish in the third where the pattern of notes is more complex:

And in this next example the first phrase is almost flat, the second with a small decline and the third very clearly declines:

All this means is that (as usual) you need to listen carefully to what is going on, But the tone, the fluidity and the aerial delivery mean that you would be unlikely to confuse this with any other species.

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