Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta

adult, breeding
Doug Wechsler/VIREO
adult, nonbreeding
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult, breeding
Arthur Morris/VIREO

Description

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.

Habitat

Grasslands, cultivated fields and pastures, meadows, prairies. Breeds mostly in natural grasslands, abandoned weedy fields, rangeland, also sometimes on cultivated land. In the Midwest, seems to prefer shorter grass and drier fields than the sites chosen by Eastern Meadowlark. In winter, often in stubble fields and other farmland.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects and seeds. Majority of diet consists of insects, especially in summer, when it eats many beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, ants, true bugs, and others; also spiders, snails, sowbugs. Seeds and waste grain make up about one-third 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. Often probes in the soil with its bill. In winter, usually forages in flocks.

Nesting

Male sings to defend nesting territory. One male may have more than one mate. 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. Nest: Placed on the ground, in areas with dense cover of grass, in a small hollow or depression in ground. Nest (built by female) is a domed structure with the entrance on the side, made of grass stems interwoven with the surrounding growth. Usually has narrow trails or "runways" leading to nest through the grass. Eggs: 3-7, usually about 5. White, heavily spotted with brown and purple, especially at larger end. Incubation is by female, about 13-15 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings (but female does more). Young leave the nest after about 12 days, before they are able to fly, and are tended by parents for at least another 2 weeks. 2 broods per year.

Eggs

3-7, usually about 5. White, heavily spotted with brown and purple, especially at larger end. Incubation is by female, about 13-15 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings (but female does more). Young leave the nest after about 12 days, before they are able to fly, and are tended by parents for at least another 2 weeks. 2 broods per year.

Young

Both parents feed nestlings (but female does more). Young leave the nest after about 12 days, before they are able to fly, and are tended by parents for at least another 2 weeks. 2 broods per year.

Conservation

Still widespread and common, but surveys indicate ongoing population declines in recent decades.

Range

Migrates relatively late in fall and early in spring. Summer range and numbers may vary in drier parts of West, with numbers of breeding birds dependent on amount of spring rainfall.

Listen

introductory whistles & flight song
churts, sputters, & song
rattles
churts
song #4
song #2
song #1
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

Eastern Meadowlark

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.

Vireo

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