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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Western Meadowlark

Sturnella neglecta ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: ICTERIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The buoyant, flutelike melody of the Western Meadowlark ringing out across a field can brighten anyone’s day. Meadowlarks are often more easily heard than seen, unless you spot a male singing from a fence post. This colorful member of the blackbird family flashes a vibrant yellow breast crossed by a distinctive, black, V-shaped band. Look and listen for these stout ground feeders in grasslands, meadows, pastures, and along marsh edges throughout the West and Midwest, where flocks strut and feed on seeds and insects.

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Keys to identification Help

Blackbirdlike
Blackbirdlike
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    The Western Meadowlark is the size of a robin but chunkier and shorter-tailed, with a flat head, long, slender bill, and a round-shouldered posture that nearly conceals its neck. The wings are rounded and short for the bird’s size and the tail is short, stiff, and spiky.

  • Color Pattern

    Western Meadowlarks have yellow underparts with intricately patterned brown, black and buff upperparts. A black “V” crosses the bright yellow breast; it is gray in winter. Contrasting stripes of dark brown and light buff mark the head. The outer tail feathers flash white in flight.

  • Behavior

    Look for Western Meadowlarks foraging on the ground alone or, in winter, in small, loose flocks. When flushed, Western Meadowlarks fly low, wings below the horizontal, gliding and flapping with short, stiff, quail-like wingbeats. In spring and summer, males sing out from atop fence posts, bushes, power lines, and other high points.

  • Habitat

    Western Meadowlarks seek the wide open spaces of native grasslands and agricultural fields for spring and summer breeding and winter foraging. Look for them among low to medium-height grasses more so than in tall fields. They also occur along the weedy verges of roads, marsh edges, and mountain meadows up to 10,000 feet.

Range Map Help

Western Meadowlark Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult

    Western Meadowlark

    Adult
    • Chunky songbird with long, sharp bill
    • Long pink legs
    • Bright yellow breast with black, "V"-shaped breast band
    • Upperparts streaked tan and white
    • © Ganesh Jayaraman, Roseville, California, February 2010
  • Adult

    Western Meadowlark

    Adult
    • Stocky body with long, pointed bill
    • Short tail
    • Bright yellow underparts
    • Black "V"-shaped band on breast
    • © Bob Gunderson, San Jose, California, January 2011
  • Adult in flight

    Western Meadowlark

    Adult in flight
    • Short tail shows bright white outer feathers when fanned
    • Heavy-bodied with long, pointed bill
    • Bright yellow underparts
    • © Stuart Oikawa, Manitoba, Canada, April 2010
  • Adult winter

    Western Meadowlark

    Adult winter
    • Long, pointed bill
    • Striped head
    • Yellow breast and black "v" necklace fade in winter
    • © Carlos Escamilla, Laredo, Texas, December 2010
  • Immature

    Western Meadowlark

    Immature
    • Stocky with long, pointed bill
    • Tan patterned back with streaked flanks
    • Immature shows faint yellow patches on breast and belly
    • © Ron Kube, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, September 2009
  • Adult

    Western Meadowlark

    Adult
    • Stocky and short-tailed
    • Tan patterned back and dark-streaked flanks
    • Bright yellow underparts
    • Perches conspicuously on fence posts or on top of shrubs
    • © Michael J. Andersen, Simms, Montana, June 2011
  • Adult in flight

    Western Meadowlark

    Adult in flight
    • Long, pointed bill
    • Stocky body with short tail
    • Bright yellow underparts
    • Black, "V"-shaped breast band
    • © Cameron Rognan, Arcata, California, December 2006
  • Adult singing

    Western Meadowlark

    Adult singing
    • Stocky with long, pointed bill
    • Bright yellow underparts
    • Black "V"-shaped breast band
    • Long pink legs
    • © Jana Thompson, Black Hills, South Dakota, April 2010

Similar Species

  • Adult

    Eastern Meadowlark

    Adult
    • Very similar to Western Meadowlark
    • Best separated by voice
    • Moustache stripe on Eastern is mostly plain white (yellow on Western)
    • © CleberBirds, Lake Kissimmee , Florida, April 2011
  • Adult female

    Red-winged Blackbird

    Adult female
    • Similar to Western Meadowlark but smaller
    • Shorter bill
    • Dense dark streaking on underparts
    • Black legs
    • © hjhipster, Forsythe NWR, Oceanville, New Jersey, May 2010
  • Adult female

    Yellow-headed Blackbird

    Adult female
    • Similar to Western Meadowlark but longer-tailed
    • Rounded head
    • Solid dark brown back and belly
    • No black band on yellow breast
    • © Pat Kavanagh, Alberta, Canada, May 2009
  • Adult male

    Horned Lark

    Adult male
    • Similar to Western Meadowlark but smaller and more slender
    • Black mask and "sideburns"
    • Solid, sandy-brown back
    • White belly
    • © Bill Wynneck, Ontario, Canada, January 2011

Similar Species

Eastern and Western Meadowlarks are notoriously difficult to distinguish in the Midwest and South where their ranges overlap. Song is the most reliable difference, with Eastern Meadowlark songs simpler and higher-pitched while Westerns are a more complex series of whistles, warbles, and gurgles. In winter, when males aren’t singing, look at habitat and behavior: Western Meadowlarks feed in flocks in sparse vegetation or bare ground. The two species look only subtly different: Western Meadowlarks have paler head stripes and a mostly yellow, not white, malar stripe (from the base of the bill onto the lower cheek). They also show slightly less white in the tail, and whitish rather than buffy flanks. Horned Larks also occur in open fields but are much smaller with a shorter bill and unpatterned brown back. Female Yellow-headed Blackbirds have much more yellow on the head and a much darker body. Female Red-winged Blackbirds are more slender and lack yellow on the body. Other species with conspicuous white outer tail feathers (Vesper Sparrow, pipits) are smaller and thinner.

Backyard Tips

Although not seen regularly at backyard feeders, Western Meadowlarks occasionally visit feeding stations in open habitats.

Find This Bird

Look for the abundant Western Meadowlark foraging in open grasslands, meadows and fields of low-growing vegetation, or along marshes and road edges with sparse cover. In winter you may see them in mixed flocks with other blackbirds and starlings. During the breeding season, males sing from the tops of fence posts and shrubs, or perch on fences and powerlines.

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