Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, June 11, 2019


Noah Greenwald, (503) 484-7495,

Oregon Court Ruling Means Streaked-horned Lark May Get Endangered Status

Judge Orders Feds to Reconsider Designation of Rare Bird as Threatened

PORTLAND, Ore.— A federal judge ruled late yesterday that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service erred in determining that the streaked-horned lark only warranted threatened, and not endangered, status. The lark has suffered massive declines across its range in western Oregon and Washington, and as few as 1,100 remain alive.

The U.S. District Court ruling responds to a Center for Biological Diversity lawsuit aimed at strengthening Endangered Species Act protection for the lark. The songbirds are named for distinctive horn-like tufts above their eyes.

The lark will retain its threatened designation while the agency reconsiders its status. The court requested further briefing on a timeline for that decision. The court also remanded a “4(d)” rule, which limited protections for the lark and was tied to its threatened listing. That rule exempted all agricultural activities from the prohibitions of the Endangered Species Act, regardless of whether they harm the lark.

“The streaked-horned lark is in real trouble and needs the full protection of the Endangered Species Act,” said Noah Greenwald, the Center’s endangered species director. “We’re relieved the court saw it our way. If the Fish and Wildlife Service follows the science, we’re confident this unique prairie bird will finally get the recognition as endangered it so badly needs.”

With the loss of most native short-grass prairies in the Puget Trough and Willamette Valley, the lark is now in many cases found in human-disturbed areas that mimic their natural habitat, including grass-seed fields and airports.

In such cases, management is creating habitat. But birds are also dying when their nests are destroyed by plowing or mowing. This can easily be avoided by locating the nests and cordoning them off. Such measures are being effectively used by Joint Base Lewis-McChord, but they’re not often practiced elsewhere in the bird’s range.

“The Pacific Northwest once had extensive prairies west of the Cascades around the Puget Sound and Willamette Valley, but they’re mostly gone today,” said Greenwald. “With these pretty prairies gone, we’ve lost a whole suite of species, including the lark, Fender’s blue butterfly, Kincaid’s lupine flower and more.”

The lark once nested from southern British Columbia to the Rogue Valley in Oregon. It was so abundant around Puget Sound that it was considered a nuisance by turn-of-the-century golfers.

But the widespread destruction of the lark’s grassland habitats caused cataclysmic population declines. It has been wiped out in the San Juan Islands, northern Puget Sound, Oregon’s Rogue and Umpqua valleys and Canada.

The Center is represented in the lawsuit by the public-interest law firm of Meyer, Glitzenstein and Eubanks.

The lark is a small, ground-dwelling songbird with conspicuous feather tufts, or “horns,” on its head. Its back is heavily streaked with black, contrasting sharply with its ruddy nape and yellow underparts.

The lark is part of a growing list of species imperiled by loss of prairies in the Willamette Valley and Puget Trough to urban and agricultural sprawl, including the Taylor's checkerspot butterfly and Willamette daisy.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.4 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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