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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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Songs

Male Western Meadowlarks have a complex, two-phrase “primary” song that begins with 1–6 pure whistles and descends to a series of 1–5 gurgling warbles. Males develop a repertoire of up to a dozen songs, and may switch the songs they sing in response to an intruder. When chasing competing males or responsive females, male Western Meadowlarks give a hurried, excited “flight song” of short-spaced whistles and warbles. Although Western Meadowlarks seldom sing more than 10–12 songs, their eastern counterparts exhibit a much larger repertoire of 50–100 song variations.

Calls

The Western Meadowlark’s most common call is a low, bell-like pluk or chupp which they use when disturbed and during courtship and territorial displays. Female Western Meadowlarks also give a soft rattle during courtship and egg laying, as well as a low intensity tee-tee-tee when building the nest and laying eggs. For their first few weeks after leaving the nest, young birds give a simple, high-pitched location call, which is replaced by a weet note once the birds are independent. Adults use the weet note when migrating.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

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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