The western meadowlark is named for its beautiful warbling song but in fact it is a member of the blackbird family, not the lark family. As the state bird of several western states, this is a popular and familiar songbird for many birders.
Western Meadowlark, Meadowlark
- Bill: Sharply tapered, long, gray
- Size: 9-10 inches long with 14-16-inch wingspan, stocky body, wide tail
- Colors: Brown, beige, black, white, yellow
- Markings: Male and female birds are similar with a heavily mottled beige body, thin black stripes on the wings, a bold black V on the chest and black spots or stripes on the sides. The throat, chest and abdomen are bold yellow, and a yellow patch can be seen above the eye. The head has dark brown stripes and a white stripe above the eye. Outer tail feathers are white and legs are pale.
Habitat and Migration:
Western meadowlarks are common in the central and western United States and the birds’ range extends are far north as southern Canada and south into Mexico. These birds prefer open grassland and pasture habitat but can also be found in cultivated fields and other rural areas. Extreme northern and southern bird populations migrate seasonally.
The western meadowlark’s distinctive warbling song is its most easily identifiable characteristic. A short set of varied pitched notes are repeated with short pauses between them, and the birds are often found singing from perches such as posts, plant stalks and fences. The song has a deep throaty sound, though the birds will also use “chip” and “chirp” calls.
Meadowlarks are solitary birds or can be found in pairs during the breeding season, but at other times of the year they may form small flocks. They forage on the ground and generally fly low above the grass rather than perching or flying at greater heights.
Western meadowlarks are generally monogamous and a pair of birds will produce 2 broods of 3-6 eggs per year. Female birds incubate the eggs for 13-15 days, but both parents will feed the young birds during the 11-13 day nestling phase until the hatchlings are ready to leave the nest.
Attracting Western Meadowlarks:
Western meadowlarks are not common backyard birds but will visit yards in rural, agricultural areas. Birders can make their backyard more attractive to these birds by providing ample perching areas, open areas and grass seeds.
- Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna)
- Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus)
Photo – Western Meadowlark © Kevin Cole