Eastern Meadowlark

Sturnella magna

Laura Erickson
  • ICTERIDAE
  • Blackbirds, Orioles, and allies
  • Passeriformes
  • Pradero tortilla con chile
  • Sturnelle des prés
Introduction

A robin-sized bird, the Eastern Meadowlark has a light brown back and brilliant yellow breast with a big, black "V", found in grasslands and open savannas in eastern Canada south through the eastern United States.  One of Audubon's Common Birds in Decline, the Easter Meadowlark's numbers have plummeted 73 percent since 1967.

 

Fun Fact

The Eastern Meadowlark is not a lark (family Alaudidae) but rather a member of the family Icteridae, along with blackbirds and orioles.

Bird Sounds
© Lang Elliot, Nature Sound Studio
Vocalization

The spring song is a melodic four-note whistle.

Appearance Description

Light brown on the back and brilliant yellow on the breast with a big, black "V." They are robin-sized and usually seen on the ground or flying near it.

Range Map
Kenn Kaufman
Range Distribution

Found from eastern Canada south through the eastern United States, in eastern Mexico through Central America, and in northeastern South America. Small populations in Arizona, New Mexico, western Texas, and adjacent parts of Mexico.

Habitat

Prefers native grasslands and open savannas, but also found in many human-altered grassy habitats.

Feeding

Feeds on insects, including crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, cutworms, and grubs during the spring, and weeds and waste grains during the winter. Usually forages on the top of the ground, but will sometimes prod under clumps of soil and manure to find food. During heavy snowstorms, the Eastern Meadowlark will sometimes eat bird and small mammal roadkill.

Reproduction

Nests are built as shallow depressions in grassland habitat, usually in pastures, meadows, or hayfields, and are well hidden in thick vegetation. A female may lay several clutches of 2-6 eggs in a season, but it is rare to have more than two successful broods. Eastern Meadowlarks are sometimes the victim of parasitic behavior from Brown-headed Cowbirds, who lay their eggs in other species’ nests – including those of meadowlarks.

Migration
  • 6.9 million
  • 6.9 million
  • 24 million 40 years ago
  • 73 percent since 1967
Population Status Trends
Conservation Issues

Like many grassland birds, Eastern Meadowlarks are threatened by changing agricultural practices. With the recent push for biofuels such as ethanol, there is a real danger that many acres that have been in the Conservation Reserve Program will be converted from the Eastern Meadowlarks’ prairie habitat to cornfields for ethanol production.

The short-term outlook is not good because of the current push to grow more monocultures for biofuels, and the continuing need for row crops for food production. Improving this outlook will depend on the development of strong conservation provisions for grassland birds.

What You Can Do
  • Preserve Farmlands Promote strong conservation provisions in the federal farm bill, especially the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which pays farmers to keep marginal farmlands idle and supports millions of acres of good bird habitat. Contact your county’s office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) or Farm Service Agency (FSA) to find out how to increase the number of acres devoted to helping birds dependent on farmlands.

  • Save Grasslands Be proactive with your local, state and national officials to increase the amount of habitat that can support breeding grassland birds, In particular support smart growth and protection of open space. Promote late mowing (preferably early August in most parts of the country) in hayfields and healthy public and private ranchlands devoted to livestock grazing. Urge parks to devote large parcels to prairie restoration. Volunteer at an Important Bird Area.

  • Stop Invasive Species Work with county agricultural officials to help fight the spread of non-native annual grasses. Support strong federal, regional, state, and local regulations and research and management to combat non-native, invasive species.
More Information
Natural History References

Kaufman, Kenn. Guía de campo a las aves de Norteamérica. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2005.

Lanyon, W.E. (1995). Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna). The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences and Washington, DC: The American Ornithologists’ Union. Retrieved from The Birds of North America Online database: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/BNA/account/Eastern_Meadowlark/

Conservation Status References