Black Lark Melanocorypha yeltoniensis breeds in SW Russia and N Kazakhstan, and winters south to the Black Sea, Caucasus, N Iran and southern Central Asia (Alström 2004). It is currently listed as Least Concern, because when last assessed it was not thought to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under any of the IUCN Red List criteria.
Globally, it has an extremely large range in both the breeding season (>2 million km2) and in winter (>2 million km2), and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criteria (B and D2). Its population size is poorly known, but when last assessed its populations in the most suitable habitat in central Kazakhstan were estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands, and maybe even millions of breeding pairs (T. Barabashin in litt. 2005), so it was not considered to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criteria (C and D1). Therefore, the only potentially relevant criterion is A, which relates to reductions in population size. Until recently, the population was thought to be declining slowly, but not sufficiently rapidly to approach the threshold for listing as Vulnerable under criterion A (at least a 30% decline over ten years or three generations, whichever is longer).
New data collated from across Europe for the European Red List of Birds (BirdLife International 2015) indicate that the species has continued to decline precipitously in the region, with well-documented losses in European Russia of >99% since 2000 alone. As a result, only 50–100 pairs are estimated to remain in Europe, compared to 4,000–7,000 pairs at the end of the last century (BirdLife International 2004). At regional level, the species is therefore now considered to be Critically Endangered in Europe.
However, less than <10% of the species’ global breeding range occurs in Europe, so globally its status depends on trends in Kazakhstan and adjacent SW Asian Russia. When last assessed in 2006, a mixed pattern emerged, and interpretation of the limited available information on population trends was complicated by the species’s nomadic nature and large interannual fluctuations in abundance and distribution (see current global factsheet for details). Overall, it was felt that the species was not declining at a rate approaching 30% decline over ten years or three generations, whichever is longer – in this case, the relevant period is 11.4 years, based on a generation length estimated by BirdLife to be 3.8 years.
However, recent publications suggest that the species may be more at risk from land-use change than previously assumed (e.g. Oparin & Oparina 2010; Kamp et al. 2011, 2012; Smelansky & Tishkov 2012), which implies that the rapid declines observed in European Russia might also be occurring more widely.
To reassess its global status, information is sought about its current population status and recent trends in Central Asia, along with any additional information about the threats affecting this species across its range.
Alström, P. (2004). Black Lark (Melanocorypha yeltoniensis). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.) (2014). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. www.hbw.com
BirdLife International (2004) Birds in Europe: population estimates, trends and conservation status. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International (Conservation Series No. 12).
BirdLife International (2015) European Red List of Birds. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/info/euroredlist
Kamp, J., Urazaliev, R., Donald, P. F., & Hölzel, N. (2011). Post-Soviet agricultural change predicts future declines after recent recovery in Eurasian steppe bird populations. Biological Conservation, 144(11), 2607-2614.
Kamp, J., Siderova, T. V., Salemgareev, A. R., Urazaliev, R. S., Donald, P. F., & Hölzel, N. (2012). Niche separation of larks (Alaudidae) and agricultural change on the drylands of the former Soviet Union. Agriculture, ecosystems & environment, 155, 41-49.
Oparin, M.L. & Oparina O.S. (2010) Population trends of larks in steppes of Zavolzhye during last century in connection with anthropogenic transformation of habitats and natural processes. Ornithology in Northern Eurasia. Materials of the XIIIth International Ornithological Conference of Northern Eurasia. Abstracts of papers. Orenburg, Publishing House of the Orenburg State Pedagogical University: 242 (in Russian).
Smelansky, I. E., & Tishkov, A. A. (2012). The Steppe biome in Russia: Ecosystem services, conservation status, and actual challenges. In Eurasian Steppes. Ecological problems and livelihoods in a changing world (pp. 45-101). Springer Netherlands.