Vancouver Avian Research Centre

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Species: Western Meadowlark Sturnella neglecta
 
 


Description:

The Western Meadowlark is a bird of the open grasslands and meadows of western North America. Its white tail margins and V-shaped black bib on its yellow breast make it easily recognizable.

The Western Meadowlark is not a lark but related instead to New World blackbirds and troupials (Family Emberizidae, subfamily Icterinae). It was known to Lewis and Clark but not named by them. J.J. Audubon subsequently gave the bird its Latin name.

The meadowlark range stretches from grassland areas of the western Canadian provinces and southwestern Ontario south through the prairies of all western states spreading eastward into the Midwest states and into Mexico.

Identification:

General: This is a medium-sized terrestrial songbird with a long, slender bill, short tail with rather rigid rectrices, and long legs and toes. Plumage aspect becomes brighter for breeding in spring-summer due to wearing off of feather veiling in early spring (and not due to molt). Length 22-28cm. Weight 97g.

Adult Male: The crown is dark with a light median stripe, white supercilium and bright yellow fore-supercilium. Upperparts have intricate concealing patterns of buffs, browns and black streaks and bars. Throat, breast and underparts are bright yellow with a conspicuous black V-shaped bib on the yellow breast. The sides and flanks are broadly streaked and spotted with dusky black. Outer wing and tail feathers are barred with black and brown and the outer rectrices are partly white and very conspicuous in flight. Feet are dusky flesh colour. The bill is long and slender.

Adult Female: Sexes show broadly similar aspects in all plumages, although males can average brighter after feather veiling wears off. The female is slightly duller, less intense throughout, and with black pectoral crescent somewhat more restricted.

Juvenile: Similar to adults, but yellow under-parts paler and dusky streaking on breast instead of black V.

Similar Species: Difficult to distinguish from Eastern Meadowlark. Yellow throat extends well on to malar region in Western and it averages paler and grayer above, with more discrete barring in wings and tail and less white in tail than Eastern Meadowlark. Differences in songs and calls are the most reliable means of identification.

Behaviour: Flight is similar to that of quail and grouse, alternating periods of gliding with wings held stiff and periods of rapid wing beats below the horizontal. White tail margins are prominent in flight.

Meadowlarks are often seen sitting on fences and fence posts. Foraging birds walk or run on the ground and tail flicks open and shut when walking. In the fall and winter Western Meadowlarks congregate in loose flocks of up to 200, and with Eastern Meadowlarks where range overlaps. It has a loud, melodious, distinct, flutelike song and eats insects, grain and seeds.

Habitat: Preference is shown for habitats with good grass and litter cover: open grassland, savanna, native grasslands, lands converted from cropland to perennial grassland cover, weedy boarders of croplands, and roadsides.

Information:

The beautiful, loud flutelike song of the Western Meadowlark along with its abundance and conspicuousness make this one of the most popular birds of the west. The cup nest is a partially domed frequently with an entrance tunnel on the side located in a grassy tussock. They lay 3 to 7 eggs, which are white with heavily dark spotted marks.

Conservation:

Breeding populations are in significant decline in Canada and the United States.
 
Capture Rates


Although the habitat of Colony Farm is ideal for Western Meadowlark, they are more often seen closer to the interior of British Columbia. Their low abundance at the banding station is reflected by capture rates (2010-2012; standardized as birds captured per 100 net hours) where one individual was caught in May of 2011.

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