Common Name
WESTERN MEADOWLARK

Scientific Name
STURNELLA NEGLECTA

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Photo by Judd Patterson
Photo Copyright Judd Patterson

The western meadowlark, Sturnella neglecta, is an abundant widely distributed bird found in open areas throughout the western and mid-western United States, southern Canada west of the Great Lakes region, and northern Mexico. It can be found in a variety of habitats, including tidal flats, cultivated fields, meadows, prairies, and mountain meadows at elevations as high as 12,000 feet. Individuals breeding in the northern portion of the species' range migrate south for the winter, whereas individuals breeding throughout much of the United States remain in the same area year-round. Some individuals are permanent residents in the lowland valleys of Utah, but many of Utah's summer residents leave for the winter. The range of the western meadowlark has been expanding northeastward during the twentieth century due to the clearing of forests and the expansion of agriculture.

Males establish breeding territories and then engage in a courtship ritual wherein they jump up and down with their heads raised directly upward to display the bright yellow and black markings on their breasts. Pairs are polygynous, with males generally mating with two females during the same season. The pair selects a nesting site together, and the female then uses grasses to construct a concealed cup-shaped nest in a depression on the ground. The female incubates her clutch of approximately five eggs for about two weeks. Generally, the male only pairs with the second mate after the first mate has started incubating her eggs. The young are born naked and blind, and the female assumes the bulk of the parental care duties. The male will sometimes bring food to the young, but this depends on the degree of his involvement with other females. Young leave the nest after about two weeks, but they cannot fly at that time. The chicks have strong well-developed legs which enable them to run for cover until they learn to fly. They remain dependent on their parents for as long as an additional two weeks after leaving the nest.

Although the western meadowlark is a talented singer, it is not a lark; rather, it is a member of the blackbird family. Western meadowlarks forage for grain, seeds, and insects on the ground, sometimes probing into the ground for a food item.

Sources:

  • Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birderís handbook[:] a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon & Schuster, New York. xxx + 785 pp.

  • Behle, W. H., Sorensen, E. D. and C. M. White. 1985. Utah birds: a revised checklist. Utah Museum of Natural History, Occasional Publication No. 4. Salt Lake City, UT.

  • Lanyon, W. E. 1994. Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta). Birds of North America 104.

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