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Chihuahuan Meadowlark Life History



Chihuahuan Meadowlarks in Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and northern Mexico inhabit arid desert grasslands. These wide-open grasslands are a mix of short grass, forbs, yucca, shrubs, and bare ground; the birds generally nest in areas with less than 5% woody shrub cover.

Chihuahuan Meadowlarks in central Mexico use irrigated farmland rather than desert grasslands. Interestingly, Western Meadowlarks in this part of Mexico use desert grasslands, but in the southwestern United States, they select wetter farmland. Chihuahuan Meadowlarks and Western Meadowlarks effectively switch habitat preferences in the two distinct areas of Chihuahuan Meadowlarks’ range.

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Chihuahuan Meadowlarks’ diet and foraging have not been studied but are presumably like Eastern and Western Meadowlarks’. These two species both forage on the ground. Eastern and Western Meadowlarks eat seeds and grains in the fall and winter, then switch to insects during the spring and summer. Eastern Meadowlarks eat many crickets and grasshoppers in late summer.

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Nest Placement


Chihuahuan Meadowlarks place their nests on the ground under tall grasses or other vegetation. There is little information about the Chihuahuan Meadowlark nesting process, but in Eastern and Western Meadowlarks, females choose the nest site and construct the nest.

Nest Description

Chihuahuan Meadowlarks use dried grasses to build a cup nest with a dome-shaped cover. Eastern and Western Meadowlarks build nests that are 6–9 inches wide on the outside and 2–3 inches deep; Chihuahuan Meadowlarks presumably build nests with similar dimensions.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:4-6 eggs
Egg Description:

White, with brown or purple speckling.

Condition at Hatching:

No information on Chihuahuan Meadowlark hatchlings. Eastern and Western Meadowlark chicks have limited down feathers at hatching and their eyes are closed.

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Ground Forager

Many aspects of Chihuahuan Meadowlark life history, including behavior, remain unknown but are thought to be like that of Eastern and Western Meadowlarks. In both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks, a single male mates with 1–3 females at the same time, and they all nest within the male’s territory. The females are responsible for incubating eggs and brooding chicks, while the male defends the territory until the young birds fledge. After the breeding season, Eastern Meadowlarks form loose flocks for the winter that may include Western Meadowlarks.

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Low Concern

Because Chihuahuan Meadowlark was only split from Eastern Meadowlark in 2022, Partners in Flight and IUCN have not evaluated its conservation status. Since it lacks an official status, we are provisionally treating it as Low Concern. However, the North American Breeding Bird Survey shows a very steep decline of more than 4% per year for the Eastern Meadowlark in the Chihuahuan Desert Bird Conservation Region (i.e., Chihuahuan Meadowlark) between 1968 and 2021. A 4% annual decline over 54 years is equivalent to a cumulative decline of 89% over that time frame. BBS data also show a 2% annual decline in the neighboring Sierra Madre Occidental Bird Conservation Region, where this species is less common. Chihuahuan Meadowlarks are susceptible to land use changes, including land development, that cause grassland fragmentation. Both Eastern and Western Meadowlarks have declined in the face of intensive agricultural practices, and it is likely that Chihuahuan Meadowlarks are similarly impacted.

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Beam, J. K., E. R. Funk, and S. A. Taylor (2021). Genomic and acoustic differences separate Lilian’s Meadowlark (Sturnella magna lilianae) from Eastern (S. magna) and Western (S. neglecta) meadowlarks. Ornithology 138:ukab004.

Beam, J. K., L. A. Jaster, W. E. Jensen, and W. E. Lanyon (2022). Chihuahuan Meadowlark (Sturnella lilianae), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (N. D. Sly, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA

Chesser, R. T., S. M. Billerman, K. J. Burns, C. Cicero, J. L. Dunn, B. E. Hernández-Baños, R. A. Jiménez, A. W. Kratter, N. A. Mason, P. C. Rasmussen, J. V. Remsen Jr., D. F. Stotz, and K. Winker (2022). Sixty-third supplement to the American Ornithological Society’s Check-list of North American Birds. Ornithology 139:ukac020.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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