Eastern MeadowlarkSturnella magna

adult, breeding
Gerard Bailey/VIREO
adult, nonbreeding
Rick and Nora Bowers/VIREO
adult, breeding
Gerard Bailey/VIREO
adult, breeding
Brian E. Small/VIREO

Description

A familiar bird, known by the black "V" on its chest when it sings from a fencepost, or by the flash of white tail feathers when it flushes from the grass. The clear whistled song of the Eastern Meadowlark can be heard in spring not only in the East but also in desert grasslands of the Southwest. Some scientists believe that the southwestern form is actually a different species. Other races of the Eastern Meadowlark are widespread in Central America and northern South America.

Habitat

Open fields and pastures, meadows, prairies. Breeds in natural grasslands, meadows, weedy pastures, also in hayfields and sometimes in fields of other crops. Winters in many kinds of natural and cultivated fields. In the Midwest, tends to prefer taller and lusher grass than Western Meadowlark, but in the Southwest it lives in very arid desert grasslands.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects and seeds. Majority of diet consists of insects, especially in summer, when it eats many grasshoppers, crickets, beetles and their larvae, caterpillars, ants, true bugs, and others; also spiders. Seeds and waste grain make up over one-fourth of annual diet, and are eaten especially in fall and winter.

Feeding Behavior

Forages by walking on the ground, taking insects and seeds from the ground and from low plants. May probe in the soil with its bill. In winter, may forage in flocks.

Nesting

Male defends nesting territory by singing. In courtship, male faces female, puffs out chest feathers and points bill straight up to show off black "V," spreads tail widely, and flicks wings; he may even jump in the air in this posture. Male may have more than one mate. Nest: Placed on the ground, in areas with dense grass and other low cover, in a small depression in soil. Nest (built by female) is a domed structure with the entrance on the side, made of grass stems interwoven with surrounding growth. Usually has narrow trails or "runways" leading to nest through the grass. Eggs: 3-5, sometimes up to 7. White, heavily spotted with brown and purple. Incubation is by female, about 13-15 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings (but female does more). Young leave nest after 11-12 days, when still unable to fly, and are tended by parents for at least 2 more weeks. 2 broods per year.

Eggs

3-5, sometimes up to 7. White, heavily spotted with brown and purple. Incubation is by female, about 13-15 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings (but female does more). Young leave nest after 11-12 days, when still unable to fly, and are tended by parents for at least 2 more weeks. 2 broods per year.

Young

Both parents feed nestlings (but female does more). Young leave nest after 11-12 days, when still unable to fly, and are tended by parents for at least 2 more weeks. 2 broods per year.

Conservation

The species probably increased in numbers during the 1700s and 1800s as forests were cleared and turned into farmland. However, populations generally have been declining in the East in recent decades. The decrease in amount and quality of habitat is the most likely cause.

Range

Present all year in most of range, although only small numbers usually remain through winter in North. Migrants arrive rather early in spring and linger late in fall.

Listen

song #2
song #1
zeet & chatter
interaction calls
song #5
song
zeet & chatter
song #3

Similar Species

adult male

Dickcissel

In the Midwest in summer, male Dickcissels sometimes seem to sing their name from every wire, fencepost, or weed stalk in prairie or farming country. Very erratic in summer occurrence, they may nest in large numbers in an area one year and be totally absent there the next, presumably as a response to rainfall and its effect on habitat. Away from their mid-continent stronghold, migrant Dickcissels are often detected by their electric-buzzer callnote as they fly overhead.

adult male

Bobolink

Fluttering over meadows and hayfields in summer, the male Bobolink delivers a bubbling, tinkling song which, loosely interpreted, gives the species its name. The male is unmistakable in spring finery, but before fall migration he molts into a striped brown appearance like that of the female. Bobolinks in this plumage were once known as "ricebirds" in the South, where they occasionally used to cause serious damage in the ricefields.

adult male

Scott's Oriole

The rich, melodious whistles of the Scott's Oriole carry well across the slopes of the western foothills and valleys where it spends the summer. This bird occupies a variety of southwestern habitats, from dense oak woods of the lower canyons to open grassland with scattered yuccas, often placing its nest in a yucca and using the long fibers of this plant in nest construction. Scott's Orioles tend to be uncommon, and unlike some orioles, they are seldom seen in flocks.

adult, breeding

Western Meadowlark

Remarkably similar to the Eastern Meadowlark in colors and pattern, this bird is recognized by its very different song and callnotes. The two species of meadowlarks evidently can easily recognize their own kind the same way; even where their ranges overlap in the Midwest and Southwest, they almost never interbreed. However, the two species do seem to see each other as potential rivals, and they actively defend territories against each other.

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