With a range encompassing the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. as well as parts of Canada and Mexico, the Western Meadowlark is both widespread and common. In many parts of its range, the Western Meadowlark is a year-round resident, but northerly nesting birds are migratory, and these movements take place during the day.
During territory establishment, the male Western Meadowlark spends a great deal of time chasing other males out of his territory, and the defended area can change in both size and shape during the nesting season. Nest parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird does occur, but has been little studied.
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Description of the Western Meadowlark
The Western Meadowlark is a chunky bird with brownish upperparts and wings, yellow underparts with a bold, black V across the breast, a pale supercilium, and a short tail with white outermost tail feathers. Its bill is rather long and pointed.
Seasonal change in appearance
The black V is partially obscured in winter by pale feather tips.
Juveniles are similar to winter adults.
Western Meadowlarks inhabit prairies, pastures, and weedy fields.
Western Meadowlarks eat insects and seeds.
Western Meadowlarks forage on the ground, sometimes probing soil.
Western Meadowlarks are resident across most of the western half of the U.S. and also breed in southwestern Canada. The population has declined slightly in recent decades.
The Western Meadowlark has been declared the state bird in six states, making it the second most popular choice.
Western Meadowlarks have very rarely hybridized with Eastern Meadowlarks.
The song consists of a pleasantly musical warble. A “chuck” call is given as well.
- The Eastern Meadowlark is white in the malar region rather than yellow, and has more white in the tail.
The Western Meadowlark’s nest is a dome of grasses with a side entrance. It is placed on the ground in dense cover.
Number: Usually lay 3-6 eggs.
Color: Whitish with darker markings.
Incubation and fledging:
The young hatch at about 13-14 days, and fledge at about 10-12 days, though remaining dependent on the adults for some time.
Bent Life History of the Western Meadowlark
Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Western Meadowlark – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
STURNELLA NEGLECTA NEGLECTA Audubon
I shall never forget the day I first heard the glorious song of the western meadowlark; the impression of it is still clear in my mind, though it was May 30, 1901 I It was my first day in North Dakota, and we were driving from Lakota to Stump Lake when we heard the song. I could hardly believe it was a meadowlark singing, so different were the notes from those we were accustomed to in the east, until I saw the plump bird perched on a telegraph pole, facing the sun, his yellow breast and black cravat gleaming in the clear prairie sunlight. His sweet voice fairly thrilled us and seemed to combine the flutelike quality of the wood thrush with the rich melody of the Baltimore oriole. I have heard it many times since but have never ceased to marvel at it. It seems to be the very spirit of the boundless prairie.
Audubon (1844) gave this bird the above scientific name, but called it the Missouri meadowlark. He says of its discovery:
Although the existence of this species was known to the celebrated explorers of the west, Lewis and Clark, during their memorable journey across the Rocky Mountains and to the Pacific; no one has since taken the least notice of it.* * *
We found this species quite abundant on our voyage up the Missouri, above Fort Croghan, and its curious notes were first noticed by Mr. J. G. Bell, without which in all probability it would have been mistaken for our common species (Sturnella ludoviciana). When I first saw them, they were among a number of Yellow-headed Troupials, and their notes so much resembled the cries of these birds, that I took them for the notes of the Troupial, and paid no further attention to them, until I found some of them by themselves, when I was struck with the difference actually existing between the two nearly allied species.
During the latter part of the last century considerable discussion arose among leading ornithologists as to its status as a full species, a subject fully covered by Widmann (1907). As a result, this bird in the first two editions of the A. 0. U. Check-List stood as a subspecies of S. magna, and it was not until the third edition (1910) that it was restored to full specific status. There is a striking resemblance in the general appearance of the two species; intergradation has been claimed, but probably no more than might be accounted for by hybridizing. But the songs of the two are strikingly different; and, where the ranges of the two come together and even overlap, typical birds, with typical songs are sometimes found breeding in the same region, a condition not supposed to occur with subspecies.
The western meadow lark is widely distributed in all suitable regions throughout western North America, from southern Canada to northern Mexico and from the eastern borders of the prairies and plains to the Pacific. There is some evidence to suggest that it may be extending its range eastward .
The favorite haunts of this meadowlark are the prairies and the grassy plains and valleys, but it also ranges well up into the mountain parks and foothills, as high as 5,600 feet even in Washington, from sea level to 7,000 in California, 8,000 feet in Utah, 10,000 feet in Arizona, and 12,000 feet in the mountains of Colorado. Dawson and Bowles (1909) say of its haunts in Washington: “It is found not only on all grassy lowlands and in cultivated sections but in the open sage as well and upon the half-open pine-clad foothills up to an altitude of four thousand feet.” In other parts of the west, where it is common, it is likely to be seen wherever there is a thick growth of weeds and grasses, along country roads and even in vacant lots in the thinly settled parts of towns and villages.
The specific characters of the western meadowlark do not appear to be very conspicuous to the casual observer. Ridgway (1902) says that it is “similar to S. magna hoopesi, but different in proportions, the wing averaging longer, the tail, tarsi, and toes shorter; coloration much grayer and more ‘broken’ above, the broad lateral crown stripes never uniform black, but always (except in excessively worn plumage) more or less conspicuously streaked with pale grayish brown; malar region always largely yellow, usually including both anterior and extreme posterior portions; blackish streaks on sides and flanks varied with spots of pale grayish brown, the ground color of these parts paler buffy (often white, scarcely if at all tinged with bufi); black jugular crescent averaging decidedly narrower.”
Territory: Kendeigh (1941), in his study of the birds of a prairie community, has this to say:
Territorial behavior is well established in this species, although only the male defends the territory. At least two variations of song were given from singing posts, and a song was given occasionally while flying. Flight songs were not so frequent as one might expect. Possibly they were given more often during the earlier mating season. Most of the singing was from fence or telephone poles or from tall weeds or small trees. The song served as an advertisement to other males that the area was occupied. When another meadowlark encroached on the area or simply flew high over it, the male met the challenge and gave chase until the intruder passed the limits of the owner’s jurisdiction. The females, on the other hand, were at no time observed to be concerned about territorial boundaries.* *
In computing the bird population only three pairs of meadowlarks were counted for the area although four territories were represented. Three of the four territories extended well outside the area under study. The male at nest No. 1 had the smallest territory of approximately. 10 acres. The male at nest No. 2 at various times maintained right over about 24 acres. The other two territories were about 21 and 32 acres, respectively, as neaa~ as could be estimated.
Courtship: I can find no published account of the courtship of the western meadowlark. It probably consists of song and plumage display. I have some interesting notes, sent to me by J. W. Slipp, who watched a bird that displayed before its reflected image in the “shiny chromium hub caps of three parked ears,” on the campus of a college at Tacoma, Wash., on May 8, 1940. “Visiting seven of these hub caps in succession, it spent an average of about a minute, at each, apparently fascinated by its own reflected image. Walking up to the first wheel the bird stretched itself nearly erect, then began to strut excitedly back and forth, turning first one side and then the other to the mirroring of the hub cap, and repeatedly flirting its wings and tail in such a way as to flash the white outer rectrices. All this was accompanied by frequent short ejaculatory notes, interspersed occasionally with full-throated snatches of the beautiful song characteristic of the species.” On another occasion a similar performance was given on the running board of a Plymouth sedan, with his image reflected in the lustrous surface of the car. This all may have been only “shadow-boxing,” but it suggests what the courtship display might be like.
Nesting: The nesting habits of the western meadowlark are not very different from those of other meadowlarks, due allowance being made for any dillerence in environment. Samuel F. Rathbun tells me that in western Washington this bird begins nesting as early as the first week in April; he describes in his notes a very fine nest: “This nest was beautifully built, and placed in a growth of low grass, a small tuft, on rather rocky land. It was finely arched over with strips of fine, dry, fibrous bark taken from a nearby small dead tree. The body of the nest was made of dry, fine grasses, it being lined with very fine, dry grass. It was placed in a shallow depression of the ground. This nest, if removed from the ground would be nearly round, with an entrance on the side.” The site was on the shore of a lake in eastern Washington, in a nesting colony of about 150 pairs of ring-billed gulls. A nest that I found on the shore of Many Island Lake, in Alberta, was similarly located, but well concealed in long grass.
E. S. Cameron (1907) says that, in Montana, “Meadowlarks make their nests entirely of grass under the sage-brush or in tussocks of grass, and roof them over with the same material. *** On June 30, 1906, I noticed a bird sitting in a flowering cactus patch which was the prettiest nest I have seen.”
Jean M. Linsdale (1938) describes a nest found in Smoky Valley, Nev., as follows: “The nest was in an open part of a meadow, and was built in a depression in the ground, fully 3 inches deep and 8 inches in diameter. It was well covered with a dome-shaped roof composed of fibers of bark and plant stems woven in with the growing vegetation.
The top of the roof was about 5 inches above the surface of the ground. The inside of the nest was globular and 4 1/2 or 5 inches in diameter. The round entrance on the south side was 2 l/2 inches in diameter. The lower margin of the entrance was about an inch below the surface of the ground. The lining was of small grass stems.”
Kendeigh (1941) mentions two Iowa nests: “The first nest with six eggs was well concealed in Poa pratensia under a clump of Solidago rigida. * * * The second nest was under a tuft of Andropogon and had a tunnel a foot long, slightly curved, leading to it.”
John G. Tyler (1913), of Fresno, Calif., writes:
Other nests have been seen in alfalfa fields and among thick growths of weeds; but what I consider the most unusual site was located April 23, 1908 when a Meadowlark was plainly seen sitting on her nest while I was yet over one hundred feet distant. The nest was found near a berry patch, the ground having been plowed early in the winter, later a sparse, stunted growth of oats springing up. At the time the nest was found the oats were not over six inches in height, and so thin and scattering as to afford almost no protection or concealment. In a slight hollow, not over three-quarters of an inch in depth, were four eggs resting on the bare, damp ground, without a semblance of nesting material either over, under, or around them.
Bendire (1895) mentions a nest “placed in a hole in the ground fully 8 inches deep.” Dr. Harold C. Bryant (1914) found that, in California, “a preference for pasture land for nesting sites was shown, at least eighty per cent of the nests found being so situated. * * * A canopy of dry grass stems usually arches the top of the nest and a runway two to five feet long leads to the nest. Ofttimes this runway is the only clue to the location of the nest.”
Eggs: From three to seven eggs constitute the set for the western meadowlark, five being the commonest number. They are practically indistinguishable from those of the eastern bird. According to Bendire (1895), “the average measurement of 206 specimens in the United States National Museum collection is 28.33 by 20.60 millimeters, or about 1.12 by 0.81 inches. The largest egg in the series measures 30.78 by 21.84 millimeters, or 1.21 by 0.86 inches; the smallest, 25.65 by 20.07 millimeters, or 1.01 by 0.79 inches.”
Young: Bendire (1895) wiltes: “Both sexes assist in the construction of the nest and also in incubation, which lasts about 15 days. An egg is deposited daily until the set is completed. The young leave the nest before they are able to fly, depending for safety on hiding themselves in the grass, and they are cared for by the parents until they can provide for themselves. When they are able to do this they gather into small companies and roam over the surrounding country. I do not believe that any of the young of the year remain in our Northwestern States through the winter; they probably move slowly southward in the late fall.”
Mrs. Irene G. Wheelock (1904) says that incubation: Lasts thirteen days, and the young remain in the nursery twelve days longer, leaving it before they are able either to fly or to perch. Yet so protective is their coloring and so jealously does the long grass guard its secret that, search as you may within a circle where you know they are hidden, you will not find one of them. For two weeks longer they remain with their parents, learning to hunt grasshoppers, beetles, and crickets, to hide in the shadow of a green tuft, to bathe in the shallows at the brook’s edge, and last of all; to perch in low hushes at night with others of theli kind. As soon sa they have mastered these things, they are able to provide for themselves and are abandoned by the parents.
Several observers have reported that two broods are raised in a season, even in the more northern parts of the bird’s range. This seems likely, for the nesting season begins early and continues well into the summer. Dawson and Bowles (1909) say that in Washington, “one brood is usually brought off by May 1st and another by the middle of June”; they add that the young are “very precocious and scatter from the nest four or five days after hatching, even before they are able to fairly stand erect.” Bryant (1914) says that, in California, “the first nesting usually occurs in April and May and the second in July and August.” His figures show the rapid increase in the weights of young birds; the egg ready to hatch weighed 0.135 ounce, the young 1-day-old 0.25, the 8-day-old 2.50, and an adult 4.00 ounces.
Plumages: The molts and plumages of the western meadowlark are the same as those of the eastern bird, which are fully explained under that species and need not be repeated here .
Food: A great mass of information has been published on the food of the western meadowlark, mainly from investigations made in California. The most concise account, though based on the study of comparatively few specimens, is given by F. E. L. Beal (1910). In an examination of 91 stomachs, distributed throughout the year, he reported that “the food consists of 70 percent of animal matter to 30 of vegetable. Broadly speaking, the animal matter is made up of insects and the vegetable of seeds.” Beetles constitute the largest item in the animal matter; the amount for the year is almost 27 percent, practically half of which consists of predatory ground beetles, an argument against the meadowlark, as the beetles prey on other insects.
Lepidoptera, largely caterpillars, amount to about 15 percent, wasps and ants nearly 6 percent, bugs (Hemiptera) a little more than 4 percent, and grasshoppers only 12 percent for the whole year, but 42 percent in August. Other items included crickets, craneflies, spiders, sowbugs, and a few snails. Of the vegetable food, only one stomach contained anything “doubtfully identified as fruit pulp.” And only 2 percent of the yearly food was weed seeds, a surprisingly small amount for a ground-feeding bird. The remainder consisted of grain, the average monthly consumption amounting to 27.5 percent; this consisted of oats, wheat, barley, and a little corn eaten in various amounts at different seasons.
A much more elaborate report, based on the examination of nearly 2,000 stomachs, is made by Bryant (1914), from which only a few extracts can be included here. “Stomach examination has shown that sixty-three and three-tenths percent of the total volume of food of the western meadowlark for the year is made up of animal matter and thirty-six and seven-tenths percent of vegetable matter. The animal matter is made up mostly of ground beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, cutworms, caterpillars, wireworms, stink-bugs, and ants, insects most of which are injurious to crops. The vegetable matter is made up of grain and seeds. Grain as food reaches a maximum in November, December, and January, insects in the spring and sununer months, and weed seeds in September and October.” These foods break down into the following percentages for the year: Grain 30.8 percent, weed seeds 5.3, miscellaneous vegetable food 0.6, Coleoptera 21.3, Orthoptera 20.3, Lepidoptera 12.2, Hemiptera 1.7, Hymenoptera 5.6, Diptera 0.1, Arachnida 0.2, and miscellaneous insects 1.9 percent. Of the food of the nestlings, he says:
Stomachs of nestling western meadowlarks examined contained as high as two grams of insect food. Maxima of seven large cutworms, of twelve grasshoppers (three-quarters of an inch in length), and of eight beetles have been found in the stomachs of nostlings. One stomach contained twenty-four ants and parts of a ground beetle * * * A nestling western meadowlark after obtaining no food for three hours was fed twenty-eight small grasshoppers (one-hall inch in length) equal in volume to about three cubic centimeters. Another one was fed four grasshoppers (one inch in length), twelve small grasshoppers (one-half inch in length), one robberfiy, one beetle, and five ants. A third one was fed thirty grains of wheat inside of ten minutes.”
Bendire (1895) mentions seeing meadowlarks probing in the ground, probably for locust eggs deposited just below the surface of the ground. The alfalfa weevil, which does so much damage to the crop in Utah and other Western States, it’s largely eaten by the western meadowlark where these insects are abundant. E. R. Kalmbach (1914) says: “In April, 27 of these birds were collected, and the weevil, which was found to comprise one-sixth of their food, was present in all but seven. The insects taken were adults, and the average was 14.4 weevils per bird. One bird had taken 75 of these insects, another 60, and three others 51, 48, and 33, respectively.”
Ira La Rivers (1941) writes: “This species is by far the ablest avian predator of the Mormon cricket, for it specializes upon the eggs of the pest. Meadowlarks have been reported at various times as destroying entire, vast cricket egg-beds, and I have, on many occasions, seen them hard at work in such egg-beds, digging industriously for the palatable eggs, which are generally laid in clusters from a few to over fifty.”
Behavior: In a general way the habits of the western meadowlark are very similar to those of the well-known eastern species. Ridgway (1877), however, noted the following differences in its manners: “It is a much more familiar bird than its eastern relative, and we observed that the manner of its flight differed in an important respect, the bird flitting along with a comparatively steady, though trembling, flutter, instead of propelling itself by occasional spasmodic beatings of the wings, then extending them horizontally during the intervals between these beats, as is the well-known manner of flight of the eastern species.”
In his notes from western Iowa, Dr. J. A. Allen (1868) writes: “At the little village of Denison, where I first noticed it in song, it was particularly common, and half domestic in its habits, preferring apparently the streets and grassy lanes, and the immediate vicinity of the village, to the remoter prairie. Here, wholly unmolested and unsuspicious, it collected its food; and the males, from their accustomed perches on the house-tops, daily warbled their wild songs for hours together.”
Grinnell and Storer (1924) say: “In spring and early summer meadowlarks are seen chiefly in pairs; but throughout the fall and winter they forage in flocks numbering anywhere from 10 to 75 individuals. The flock organization is loose; in fleeing from danger each bird takes its own course, remaining with or leaving the flock at will. It usually happens that certain individual birds fail to take wing when a flock is first flushed, and these belated birds subsequently rise one after another as their field is invaded, to straggle off independently.”
Kendeigh (1941), speaking of some birds he had under observation, states: “Through July, six to a dozen, or more meadowlarks were seen frequently in the evenings as they went to roost in the grass within the former territory of the male of nest No. 1 or in other parts of the area. Male No. 1 was not a member of this group; his tail had been clipped for recognition purposes. These birds do not roost on any perch above the grass cover. Although they could not be observed at very close range, it appeared that they passed the night on the ground under some clump of grass, where they were relatively well protected.”
Voice: Much has been written in praise of the western meadowlark’s sweetly beautiful song, but only a few of the many references to it in the literature can be quoted. Its song is the bird’s greatest charm, which is bound to attract attention to it. My first impressions of it are mentioned at the beginning of this story. Aretas A. Saunders sends me his impressions of it as follows: “Probably all bird lovers who know the songs of both eastern and western meadowlarks will agree that the song of the western is far superior to that of the eastern. While I have no records of the western bird’s songs, and cannot give detailed statistics, I have heard it many times and can compare the two songs in some of their details. The western meadowlark’s song probably averages about the same in length, but contains more notes, and the notes are shorter and more rapidly repeated. The pitch is lower than that of the eastern species. Consonant sounds, both liquids like 1 and explosives like k or t are much more frequent, occurring in practically every note of the song. Individual birds sing a great number of variations, and it is probable that the variation in this species is as great as in the eastern bird. Finally, the quality of the song is richer and fuller, resembling that of thrushes or the Baltimore oriole. This matter of richer quality is what makes the song superior to our ears. It is undoubtedly due to the lower pitch. Physicists tell us that quality of musical sounds is caused by overtones, and a lower-pitched note will have more overtones that are audible to the human ear.
“The western meadowlark sings a flight song that is quite unlike the commoner song and very similar to the flight song of the eastern bird. The introductory notes, however, are not harsh or nasal, but clear and thrushlike, while the rest of the song is far inferior in quality to the commoner song.”
A. D. Du Bois, who has heard the song in both Montana and Minnesota, says in his notes: “It seems to me this westerner is something of a yodeler. * * * To my ear, its song has a very pleasing alto quality which makes the eastern bird’s song seem a rather thin falsetto by comparison. In the vicinity of my home in Minnesota we have both species; but in this locality I do not hear quite the same songs of the westerner that I heard in Montana.”
Impressions of two of the earlier travelers in the west are worth quoting. J. A. Allen (1868) did not at first recognize it as the song of a meadowlark, saying: “It differs from that of the Meadow Lark in the Eastern States, in the notes being louder and wilder, and at the same time more liquid, mellower, and far sweeter. They have a pensiveness and a general character remarkably in harmony with the half-dreary wildness of the primitive prairie, as though the bird had received from its surroundings their peculiar impress; while if less loud their songs would hardly reach their mates above the strong winds that almost constantly sweep over the prairies in the hot months. It differs, too, in the less frequency of the harsh complaining chatter so conspicuous in the Eastern birds, so much so that at first I suspected this to be wholly wanting.”
And Robert Ridgway (1877) writes:
We know of no two congeneric species, of any family of birds, more radically distinct in all their utterances than the eastern and western Meadow Larks, 2 years of almost daily association with the latter, and a much longer familiarity with the former, having thoroughly convinced us of this fact; indeed, as has been the experience of every naturalist whose remarks on the subject we have read or heard, we never even so much as suspected, upon hearing the song of the Western Lark for the first time, that the author of the clear, loud, ringing notes were [sic] those of a bird at all related to the Eastern Lark, whose song, though equally sweet, is far more subdued: half-timid: and altogether less powerful and varied. As to strength of voice, no eastern bird can be compared to this, while its notes possess a metallic resonance equalled only by those of the Wood Thrush. The modulation of the song of the Western Lark we noted on several occasions, and found it to be most frequently nearly as expressed by the following syllables: Tung-tung-tung ah, tilleh’-tillah’, tung: the first three notes deliberate, full, and resonant, the next two finer and in a higher key, the final one like the first in accent and tone. Sometimes this song is varied by a metallic trill, which renders it still more pleasing. The ordinary note is a deep-toned tuck, much like the chuck of the Blackbirds (Quiscalus), but considerably louder and more metallic; another note is a prolonged rolling chatter, somewhat similar to that of the Baltimore Oriole (Icterus baltimore), but correspondingly louder, while the anxious call-note is a liquid tyur, which in its tone and expression calls to mind the springcall (not the warble) of the Eastern Blue-bird (Sialia sialis), or the exceedingly similar complaining note of the Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius). In fact, all the notes of the Western Lark clearly indicate its position in the family Icteridee, which is conspicuously not the case in the eastern bird.”
Charles N. Allen (1881), evidently an accomplished musician, has published an excellent study of the song of the western meadowlark, to which the reader is referred, as it is too long to quote from satisfactorily. Twenty-seven distinct songs are illustrated in musical notation, in which the bird apparently sings from 120 to 200 notes per minute. Referring to the quality of the song, he says: “I know of no musical instrument whose quality of tone: timbre: is like that of Sturnella neglecta. I have thought that a combination of the tones of the Boehm flute and a good, glass dulcimer might represent it pretty accurately. It has qualities heard in the notes of the Bobolink, and of the Baltimore Oriole.” He says that he cannot apply the syllables, quoted above from Ridgway, to any of the songs he has studied; and adds that, while the songs of many birds may be well represented in syllables, he has “as yet heard nothing of the kind in any of the songs of the bird under consideration.”
While Allen’s musical notations may convey some impressions to a trained musician, they are of no help to the average layman; nor, in my opinion, do the many attempts, which I have seen in print, to express the songs in syllables, give any adequate idea of them. While attempts to express the songs in human words are entirely inadequate to show their quality, they at least indicate the rhythm and serve to recall the songs to one who has heard them. One of the best of these is written by Dawson and Bowles (1909): “One boisterous spirit in Chelan I shall never forget for he insisted on shouting, hour after hour, and day after day, ‘Hip! Hip! Hurrah! boys; three cheers’!.” And Fred J. Pierce (1921) describes what he calls a one-sided imaginary conversation: “We see the Meadowlark standing on a post repeating, ‘Oh, yes, I am a pretty-little-bird’ (the ‘pretty-little-bird’ winds up with a trill). In a moment he says, ‘I’m going to-eat pretty-soon.’ Then, suiting the action to the word, he drops out of sight into the grass, and presently we hear him say, ‘I cut ‘im clean off I cut ‘im clean off (this is often followed by ‘Yup’). He flies back to his perch with a bug in his bill, and when he has deliberately eaten it, he: in a fast, sing-song and unmusical Voice: says, ‘It makes me feel very good.'” Fanciful as these renderings are, they do suggest the song.
Claude T. Barnes writes to me from Utah that, on April 10, 1925, he “heard a meadowlark give the song ‘Tra la la traleek’; the ‘traleek’ was a jumble of sounds, short, emphatic. Rising into the air, it sang, while a-wing, a song quite like that of the bobolink, then alighted on a post and uttered occasionally the first song. After a while, it sang the common ‘U-tah’s a pretty place’.” He has heard the bird singing at midnight, and others have said that it sings at all hours of theday and night, though mainly in the early morning. Weather makes very little difference; it sings in sunshine, rain, wind or snow. It is also a very persistent singer. Linsdale (1938), writing of the birds of the Great Basin, says:
The songs of meadowlarks were conspicuous among the sounds in the inhabited areas. Usually they were given from some rather high perch. One, on the morning of May 25, 1932, sang 22 times in 3 minutes: 8, 7, and 7 times each minute. It then uttered 3 single whistles and moved ahout 75 yards to another perch where it resumed singing. Another on June 6, 1933, sang 10 times in l 1/2 minutes; 7 times the first minute.
One type of song was given regularly in flight. The singing hird would rise gradually in a straight line and then drop abruptly. One that was watched flew up 75 to 100 feet, at a 450 angle, singing on rapidly beating wings, and went down 50 to 75 yards away.
Albert R. Brand (1938) in his study of vibration frequencies of birds’ songs gives the western meadowlark a low-pitch rating; he recorded an approximate mean of 2,500 vibrations per second for this bird, and only 3,475 for the highest note and 1,475 for the lowest; this latter figure is lower than for any other passerine bird tested, except the catbird, crow, starling, yellow-breasted chat, and eastern red-wing, and twice as low as for the eastern meadowlark.
Field marks: This species can be easily recognized as a meadowlark by its three well-known characters, ~ hite lateral tail feathers, yellow breast, and black crescent, but there is no visible character by which it can be distinguished from the eastern meadowlark. Its song is the most easily distinguished character, being very conspicuous and quite diaguostic. The differences in behavior referred to above are very slight and not very constant.
Enemies: Cameron (1907) writes from Montana:
Meadowlarks have many enemies, more especially Golden Eagles, Prairie Falcons, Marsh Hawks, and Red-tailed Hawks. A pair of the latter, which nested for several years, close to my ranch in Custer County, fed their young almost entirely upon these birds. Whercas heaps of Meadowlark feathers lay on a log near the tree, other remains were scarcely ever found, although the hawks did occasionally procure snakes and cotton-tail rabbits.* * *
On June 15, 1898, I surprised the female hawk just after she had seized a newly flown Meadowlark which was immediately dropped. Mr. M. M. Archdale has seen a female Marsh Hawk standing by a Meadowlark’s nest and devouring the young birds. I have several times found Meadowlarks impaled, or hanging, on a barbed wire fence, and a few perish from the buffeting of spring storms.
Dawson and Bowles (1909) say: “The Meadowlark is an assiduous nester. This is not because of any unusual amativeness but because young Meadowlarks are the morceaux dtlicieux of all the powers that prey, skunks, weasels, mink, raccoons, coyotes, snakes, magpies, crows. Hawks and owls otherwise blameless in the bird-world err here: the game is too easy.” Even the little sparrow hawk will stoop for a young meadowlark. Only the fecundity of the meadowlark and its skill in concealing its nest serve to perpetuate the species .
Some nests are probably trodden upon by cattle or sheep grazing in the nesting fields. Many meadowlarks die from eating grain poisoned with thallium and spread on the ground to kill rodents; they eat this grain readily.
The cowbirds sometimes find the nests and lay one or more eggs in them, but Dr. Friedmann (1929) knew of only five definite records; it is doubtful if a young cowbird could compete with the larger young of the meadowlark.
Economic Status: A study of the food of the western meadowlark, as outlined under that heading, above, will prove it a very useful and beneficial bird. The small amount of sprouting or mature grain it eats is of little consequence when compared with the enormous number of injurious insects it destroys, while the number of useful insects it eats is too small to have much effect on the balance in its favor. For an exhaustive study of the subject, the reader is referred to two of Bryant’s important papers (1912 and 1914). The following paragraph from the latter paper is siguificant: “As a destroyer of cutworms, caterpillars, and grasshoppers, three of the worst insect pests in the State of California, the western meadowlark is probably unequaled by any other bird. The stomachs of meadowlarks examined have averaged as high as 6 cutworms and caterpillars and 16 grasshoppers apiece. Maximum numbers of 66 cutworms and of 32 grasshoppers have been taken from a single stomach. As the time of digestion is about four hours, three times the average must be consumed daily.”
FaIl: After the last brood of young are strong on the wing, old and young gather into groups or larger flocks and begin their late summer wanderings, both regional and altitudinal. Fred M. Packard (1946), writing of such movements in Colorado, says that “in late summer, they increase in numbers through the mountain parks and may even be found then above timberline. They leave the mountains in September and early October.”
John G. Tyler (1913) witnessed a heavy concentration of these birds in the Fresno district of California: “October 10, 1905, just at sundown I witnessed a flight of Meadowlarks unlike anything I had ever seen. A very large flock of these birds, estimated at about one hundred and twenty-five, came sweeping in from a half-section of stubble, and settled for just a moment in an adjoining vineyard; then the whole mass arose again and in a compact body flew back to the stubble. In every movement this flight was suggestive of ducks and the flight resembled a flock of Sprigs coming in from some irrigated wheat field, settling for an instant on a pond and then again taking wing.”
The fall migration of the western meadowlark is not greatly extended or very conspicuous, for the bird is mainly resident over most of its breeding range. It amounts to a gradual withdrawal from the more northern summer haunts, or from regions where its feeding grounds are covered with snow. Even in California, according to Grinnell (1915), in the ï’highest localities, which are subject to snowfall, there is evidently an exodus of meadowlarks for the winter, and in complementary fashion many birds winter on suitable portions of the Colorado and Mohave deserts, where the species in unknown in summer.”
Winter: Even as far north as Montana, according to Cameron (1907), the western meadowlark sometimes stays for the whole winter, “During the last winter, 1906: 1907, no less than seven Meadowlarks remained on Mr. Al. Johnson’s property situated on the outskirts of Miles City.”
Referring to Oregon, Gabrielson and Jewett (1940) say: “During the winter the birds withdraw somewhat from the State and those remaining gather into small wintering bands that seek the sheltered valleys during the worst weather. In late February or early March, they increase in numbers as the migrants move north.”
The Point Lobes Reserve, on the coast of Monterey County, Calif., seems to be a favorite winter resort for this species. Grinnell and Linsdale (1936) write: “In the open portions of Point Lobos the western meadowlark was the most numerous kind of bird and the most persistently conspicuous one throughout the whole year. Repeated counts and estimates fixed the highest number present at one time, in winter, as around two hundred. The meadowlarks in winter were banded into two or three flocks varying from forty to one hundred individuals, with additional scattered individuals always present in the neighborhood. * * * Possibly not more than 50 pairs remained to nest.”
Range: Western North America from British Columbia and Ontario south to Mexico.
Breeding Range: The western meadowlark breeds from southeastern British Columbia, central Alberta, central Saskatchewan (Manitoba Lake, Hudson Bay Junction), southern Manitoba (Dauphin, Shoal Lake), western Ontario (Emo, Fort William), northeastern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin (Superior), northern Michigan (Marquette), southern Ontario (Sault Ste. Marie; rarely Hamilton), northwestern Ohio (casually); south through western Montana, eastern Idaho, Nevada, and southeastern California to northwestern Baja California (San Quintin), northwestern Sonora, central and southeastern Arizona (Chandler, Safford, rarely Tucson), eastern Sonora, Sinalon, Jalisco, northwestern Durango, Guanajuato, southeastern Coahuila, central Texas (Eagle Pass, Austin), northwestern Louisiana (Gilliam), northwestern Arkansas, central-eastern Missouri, southwestern Tennessee (~v1emphis), southern Illinois, so&tbern Michigan, and (casually) central Ohio .
Winter Range: Winters north to southern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan, southern Manitoba, and southern Wisconsin (Racine); south to southern Baja California, MichoacAn, Mexico, Nuevo Le6n, Tamaulipas, southern Texas (Brownsville, Cove), Louisiana, and southern Mississippi.
Casual records: Casual in Alaska (Craig), northern British Columbia (Ispatseeza River), Mackenzie (30 miles below Fort Simpson), northern Alberta (Fort Chipewyan), and Kentucky (Louisville, Bowling Green). Accidental in northern Ontario (Moose Factory), New York (Rochester), and Georgia (St. Marys).
Migration: Early dates of spring arrival are: Missouri: St. Louis and St. Joseph, March 21. Illinois: Port Byron, March 6. Indiana: Posey County, February 11; Newton County, March 31. Ohio: Salem, March 13. Michigan: Three Rivers, March 10. lowa: Indianola, February 24. Wisconsin: Hammond, March 5; Superior, March 15. Minnesota: Red Wing, March 1 (average for southern Minnesota, March 12); Wilkins County, March 9 (average of 18 years in northern Minnesota, March 25). Texas: Dallas, February 12. Okiahoma: Skiatook, February 27. Kansas: Johnson County, February 23. Nebraska: Red Cloud, January 18 (average of 23 years, February 20). South Dakota: Yankton, February 20. North Dakota: Fargo, March 8 (average for Cuss County, March 19). Manitoba: Rosser, March 4. Saskatchewan: Qu’Appelle, March 18. Colorado: Weldona, February 24. Utah: Ogden, February 18. Wyoming: Barnum, March 2 (average of 10 years, March 15); Yellowstone National Park, March 18. Idaho: Rupert, March 3. Montana: Kirby, February 20; Fortine, March 2; average of 18 years in Custer County, March 30. Alberta: Camrose, March 8. California: Tub Lake, February 26; Twentynine Palms, March 7. Nevada: Carson City, February 23. Oregon: Corvallis, February 28. Washington: Pullman, February 25; Richardson and Bellingliam, February 27. British Columbia: Okanagan Landing, February 28.
Late dates of spring departure are: Sonora: Oposura, April 4. Baja California: Guadalupe Island, March 22. Alabama: Fort Morgan, March 19. Georgia: St. Marys, March 16. Mississippi: Bolivar County, April 26. Illinois: Port Byron, May 17. Texas: Atascosa County, April 15. Oklahoma: Oklahoma City, May 5. Kansas: Douglas County, May 7. California: Death Valley, April 29 .
Early dates of fall arrival are: Washington: Blame, September 3. Oregon: Prospect, September 28. Nevada-Charleston Mountains, September 11. Oklahoma: Norman and Oklahoma City, October 8. Texas: Atascosa County, October 8. Mississippi: Deer Island, October 13. Baja California: San Josh del Cabo, October 14. Sonora: Hermosillo, October 20.
Late dates of fall departure are: British Columbia: Okanagan Landing, November 30. Washington: Westport, December 5. Oregon: Weston, November 23. Nevada: Clark County, November 27. California: Twentynine Palms, November 27. Alberta: Morrin, November 16. Montana: Charlo, November 10. Idaho: Lewiston, November 2. Wyoming: Sundance, November 10; Laramie, November 7 (average of 9 years, October 29). Utah-Ogden, November 18. Colorado: Yuma, November 18. Saskatchewan: Eastend, November 15; Indian Head, November 14. Manitoba: Treesbank and Brandon, November 17. North Dakota: Stutsman County, November 27; Cass County, November 24 (average, October 26). South Dakota: Sioux Falls, December 3 (average of 7 years, October 30). Nebraska: Lincoln, November 30. Kansas: Douglas County, November 12. Texas: Denison, November 30. Minnesota: Hutchinson, November 19 (average for southern Minnesota, October 18); Sherburne County, November 1 (average of 10 years in northern Minnesota, October 17). Wisconsin: Dunn County, November 19. Iowa: Newton and Emmetsburg, November 17. Michigan: McMillan, October 21. Illinois: Port Byron, October 17. Arkansas: Hot Springs National Park, November 13.
Egg dates: Alberta: 2 records, June 15 and June 20. Arizona: 2 records, April 22 and April 30.
California: 100 records, February 11 to July 2; 50 records, Apr. 20 to May 30.
North Dakota: 20 records, May 2 to June 10; 12 records, June 2 to June 6.
Utah: 6 records, April 20 to May 25; 3 records, May 7 to May 17 (Harris).
Pacific Western Meadowlark
STURNELLA NEGLECTA CONFLUENTA Ratbbun
The Pacific western meadowlark was described and named by S. F. Rathbun (1917) from a specimen taken at Seattle, Wash. He gives as its characters: “Similar to Sturnella, neglecta neglecta, but the bars on tail and tertials broader and much more confluent; upper parts darker throughout, and their black areas more extensive; yellow of under parts averaging darker; spots and streaks on the sides of breast, body, and flanks larger and more conspicuous.” Its range is the Pacific coast region of southwestern British Columbia and northwestern Washington, south to northwestern Oregon and east to the Cascade Mountains.
I can find nothing recorded on its habits to indicate that they are in any way different from those of the interior race.
In Washington it is both a migrant and a summer resident, also, especially in southwestern Washington, it is an irregular permanent resident. The breeding season near Seattle and Tacoma extends from April 21 to June 5.
Range: British Columbia to Oregon, west of the Cascade Mountains.
Breeding Range: The Pacific western meadowlark breeds from southwestern and central British Columbia south through Washington, western Idaho (Fayette), and Oregon to southern California, intergrading with the western meadowlark in central Idaho, Death Valley, and San Diego County, Califorma .
Winter Range: Winters from Vancouver Island and the adjacent mainland southward, casually north to southern British Columbia. Migrant, in part, in the northeastern portion of its range.