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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Eastern Meadowlark

Sturnella magna ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: ICTERIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The sweet, lazy whistles of Eastern Meadowlarks waft over summer grasslands and farms in eastern North America. The birds themselves sing from fenceposts and telephone lines or stalk through the grasses, probing the ground for insects with their long, sharp bills. On the ground, their brown-and-black dappled upperparts camouflage the birds among dirt clods and dry grasses. But up on perches, they reveal bright-yellow underparts and a striking black chevron across the chest.

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Keys to identification Help

Blackbirdlike
Blackbirdlike
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Eastern Meadowlarks are chunky, medium-sized songbirds with short tails and long, spear-shaped bills. In flight, their rounded wings, short tails, and long bills help set them apart from other grassland songbirds.

  • Color Pattern

    Eastern Meadowlarks are pale brown marked with black, with bright-yellow underparts and a bold black V across the chest. Though most of the tail is brown with blackish barring, the outer feathers are white and conspicuous during flight.

  • Behavior

    Eastern Meadowlarks walk on the ground, often concealed by grasses or crops. Males sing beautiful, flutelike songs from exposed perches, particularly fenceposts. Their flight is a distinctive sequence of rapid fluttering and short glides, usually low to the ground. In winter you may see flocks of meadowlarks hunting insects in fields.

  • Habitat

    Eastern Meadowlarks live in farm fields, grasslands, and wet fields. They nest on the ground and sing from exposed perches such as treetops, fenceposts, and utility lines.

Range Map Help

Eastern Meadowlark Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Breeding adult

    Eastern Meadowlark

    Breeding adult
    • Stocky, short-tailed songbird
    • Bright yellow underparts with black "V"-shaped mark on breast
    • Long, pink legs with large feet
    • Streaked flanks and patterned back
    • © Cleber Ferreira, Joe Overstreet Road, Florida, April 2011
  • Breeding adult

    Eastern Meadowlark

    Breeding adult
    • Stocky-bodied with sharp, pointed bill
    • Bright yellow below with black "V" on breast
    • Streaked flanks
    • Black stripe behind eye and yellow above
    • © Joe Povenz, Michigan, May 2010
  • Nonbreeding adult

    Eastern Meadowlark

    Nonbreeding adult
    • Stocky songbird with sharp, pointed bill
    • Yellow on breast and above eye more muted in winter
    • Streaky-patterned back
    • © Ed Schneider, Peytonsville Road, Williamson County, Tennessee, February 2009
  • Breeding adult

    Eastern Meadowlark

    Breeding adult
    • Stocky-bodied, short-tailed songbird
    • Often sings from exposed perches
    • Bright yellow underparts with black "V" on breast
    • Streaked flanks
    • © Joe Povenz, Michigan, May 2010
  • Breeding adult

    Eastern Meadowlark

    Breeding adult
    • Stocky songbird with long, pink legs and large feet
    • Streaked flanks and patterned back
    • Sharply pointed bill
    • Bright yellow breast with black "V" mark
    • © Ken Schneider, Nelson Lake/Dick Young Forest Preserve, Kane County, Illinois, May 2011
  • Nonbreeding adult

    Eastern Meadowlark

    Nonbreeding adult
    • Stocky with short tail and sharp, pointed bill
    • Colors more muted in winter
    • Long legs and large feet
    • Black stripe behind eye and yellow above
    • © Phillip Simmons, Joe Overstreet Landing, Kissimmee, Florida, January 2010
  • Nonbreeding "Lilian

    Eastern Meadowlark

    Nonbreeding "Lilian's" adult
    • "Lilian's" subspecies of Southwest US shows bold, contrasting head stripes
    • Sharp, pointed bill
    • Scalloped and patterned back
    • Yellow above eye
    • © Ned Harris, Sulphur Springs Valley, Arizona, December 2009

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Western Meadowlark

    Adult
    • Very similar to Eastern Meadowlark
    • Malar stripe at base of bill is bright yellow in Western, white in Eastern
    • Best separated by voice
    • © Ganesh Jayaraman, Laguna Avenue, Coyote Valley, California, January 2010
  • Adult female

    Red-winged Blackbird

    Adult female
    • Similar to Meadowlarks, but with heavily streaked breast
    • No yellow on underparts
    • Black bill
    • Shorter, thinner black legs
    • © hjhipster, Forsythe NWR, Oceanville, New Jersey, May 2010

Similar Species

Western Meadowlarks overlap with Eastern Meadowlarks in parts of central North America and are very difficult to tell apart by sight. The best clue is the voice: Western Meadowlarks have a richer, chortling song and also give diagnostic chuck calls. They are slightly paler than Eastern Meadowlarks, and the yellow on the throat extends all the way to the brown cheek. Female and nonbreeding Bobolinks are smaller and slimmer, with much shorter bills and more uniform buff coloring than meadowlarks. Savannah Sparrows are very small with a short bill and whitish, not yellow, underparts.

Regional Differences

“Lillian’s” Eastern Meadowlark occurs in Arizona grasslands. This subspecies has more white in the tail, grayer upperparts, and more contrastingly white cheeks than other Eastern Meadowlarks.

Find This Bird

During breeding season Eastern Meadowlarks sing often and fairly late in the day, so listen for their pretty, flutelike songs. Also look for bright yellow-breasted males with dashing black V’s across their chest as they show off from posts or poles. In winter, they may be gathered up in flocks of up to 200 meadowlarks foraging in fields for leftover seeds and grains.