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Eremopterix verticalis (Grey-backed sparrowlark, Greybacked finchlark)

Grysruglewerik [Afrikaans]; Ruruworo, Tjowe (generic terms for sparrowlark and Pink-billed lark) [Kwangali]; Grijsrug-vinkleeuwerik [Dutch]; Moinelette dos gris [French]; Nonnenlerche [German]; Cotovia-pardal-de-dorso-cinzento [Portuguese]

Life > Eukaryotes > Opisthokonta > Metazoa (animals) > Bilateria > Deuterostomia > Chordata > Craniata > Vertebrata (vertebrates)  > Gnathostomata (jawed vertebrates) > Teleostomi (teleost fish) > Osteichthyes (bony fish) > Class: Sarcopterygii (lobe-finned fish) > Stegocephalia (terrestrial vertebrates) > Tetrapoda (four-legged vertebrates) > Reptiliomorpha > Amniota > Reptilia (reptiles) > Romeriida > Diapsida > Archosauromorpha > Archosauria > Dinosauria (dinosaurs) > Saurischia > Theropoda (bipedal predatory dinosaurs) > Coelurosauria > Maniraptora > Aves (birds) > Order: Passeriformes > Family: Alaudidae > Genus: Eremopterix

Eremopterix verticalis (Grey-backed sparrowlark, Greybacked finchlark) Eremopterix verticalis (Grey-backed sparrowlark, Greybacked finchlark)

Grey-backed sparrowlark male, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape. [photo Johann du Preez ]

Grey-backed sparrowlark female, Tanqua Karoo, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ]

Eremopterix leucotis (Chestnut-backed sparrowlark, Chestnutbacked finchlark) Eremopterix verticalis (Grey-backed sparrowlark, Greybacked finchlark)

Grey-backed sparrowlark male. [photo Callie de Wet ]

Grey-backed sparrowlark juvenile, Beaufort West, South Africa. [photo Trevor Hardaker ]

Distribution and habitat

Near-endemic to southern Africa, occurring from south-western Angola and Zambia to Namibia, Botswana and South Africa, marginally extending into Zimbabwe. It generally prefers semi-arid to arid open habitats, such as sand or gravel plains punctuated by grass clumps and shrubs, also recently burnt grassland, harvested cropland and fallow fields.

Distribution of Grey-backed sparrowlark in southern Africa, based on statistical smoothing of the records from first SA Bird Atlas Project ( Animal Demography unit, University of Cape Town; smoothing by Birgit Erni and Francesca Little). Colours range from dark blue (most common) through to yellow (least common). See here for the latest distribution from the SABAP2.  

Predators and parasites

It has been recorded as prey of the Falco chicquera (Red-necked falcon).

Movements and migrations

It is extremely nomadic, moving in groups of up to several thousand to areas with better rainfall and grass growth/


It mainly eats seeds, doing most of its foraging in small groups, pecking food items from the ground. The following food items have been recorded in its diet:

  • Seeds
    • Atriplex lindleyi (Australian saltbrush, obtained by breaking open fruit)
    • grasses
      • Brachiara glomerata
      • Stipagrostis
      • Schmidtia
      • Aristida
      • Eragrostis
    • forbs
      • Cleome
      • Monsonia umbellata
      • Hypertelis salsoides
  • Arthropods
    • Hodotermes mossambicus (Northern harvester termite workers and alates)
    • locusts (Orthoptera)


  • The nest (see image below) is built solely by the female in about 4-5 days, consisting of a cup built of small dry stems, leaves, feathery awns of grasses and occasionally with fluffy Karoo rosemary seeds (Eriocephalus) or wool. It is typically placed in an excavated hollow on a foundation of stones, usually at the base of a shrub with the entrance facing south or east, to maximise shade in the heat of the day.
Eremopterix leucotis (Chestnut-backed sparrowlark, Chestnutbacked finchlark)  

Grey-backed sparrowlark female (left), and male (right), at nest with chick.

  • It is an opportunistic breeder, meaning that egg-laying season is year-round. Laying dates usually coincide with rainfall and the onset of grass growth - especially when bushman grass (Stipagrostis) develops its feather awns.
  • It lays 1-5 eggs, which are incubated by both sexes for about 9-11 days.
  • The chicks are cared for by both parents, who mainly feed them invertebrates such as grasshoppers and caterpillars. They eventually leave the nestafter about 7-10 days (later if there has been rainfall), but only taking their first flight at about 15-20 days old.


Not threatened.


  • Hockey PAR, Dean WRJ and Ryan PG 2005. Roberts - Birds of southern Africa, VIIth ed. The Trustees of the John Voelcker Bird Book Fund, Cape Town.