Skip to main content

Eastern Meadowlark Life History


GrasslandsEastern Meadowlarks are most common in native grasslands and prairies, but they also occur in pastures, hayfields, agricultural fields, airports, and other grassy areas. Because vast swaths of grasslands are hard to find in parts of eastern North America, Eastern Meadowlarks will breed in many kinds of grassy areas as long as they can find about 6 acres in which to establish a territory. Where their range overlaps with Western Meadowlarks, Eastern Meadowlarks tend to use wetter, lower-lying grasslands. Back to top


InsectsEastern Meadowlarks eat mostly insects, including crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and grubs. During winter they also eat weed seeds, spilled corn, and wild fruits, but don’t eat sprouting grain. They get their food by walking on the ground and probing with their bill. First they push their closed bill into the ground and then open their mandibles to disturb the dirt and expose grubs and worms—a common tactic for members of the blackbird family. Back to top


Nest Placement

GroundEastern Meadowlarks nest on the ground in grasslands. The female finds a small depression or even hoof print, typically well concealed by dense vegetation.

Nest Description

The female builds the nest all by herself, taking 4–8 days. She constructs a cup nest woven with dead grasses, plant stems, and strips of bark that’s about 6–9 inches wide and 2–3 inches deep. Some nests are quite elaborate, with overhead roofs and tunnel entrances made of woven grasses.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-7 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.9-1.2 in (2.2-3.1 cm)
Egg Width:0.7-0.9 in (1.8-2.3 cm)
Incubation Period:13-16 days
Nestling Period:10-12 days
Egg Description:White, with variable speckles or spots.
Condition at Hatching:Mostly naked with pinkish-orange skin and sparse down along back and above eyes; eyes are closed at hatching.
Back to top


Ground ForagerEastern Meadowlarks walk and stalk on the ground of thickly vegetated grasslands searching for insects to eat. Males are very vocal during the breeding season, singing boldly from open areas or elevated perches. A musical meadowlark declaring “Spring is here!” from atop a farm fencepost is a welcome sign that winter is over in northern states. Singing is a primary means of territory establishment. Males also display to each other, and later to females, by tilting their bill upward and showing their bright yellow breast and black breast band. They will also engage in “jump flights”, where rival males leap into the air one after the other, fluttering their wings with tail cocked upward and feet dangling. Males accept 2–3 females into their territories; both males and females return to the same territory year after year, though females will find another territory if the male fails to show up. Outside of breeding season, Eastern Meadowlarks are very shy, remaining hidden among tall grasses and silently slinking away when people approach. When disturbed, they burst into their stuttering flight of shallow, whirring wingbeats and short glides. People should be very cautious approaching meadowlarks during nesting, as the female will abandon incubation of her eggs if she is forced off the nest. Back to top


Common Bird in Steep Decline

Eastern Meadowlarks are a declining species. Populations fell approximately 2.6% per year between 1966 and 2019, resulting in a cumulative decline of 75%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. If the decline in their population decline continues, their numbers will be halved in less than 20 years. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 37 million and rates them 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Eastern Meadowlarks are listed as a Common Bird in Steep Decline for species that are still too numerous or widely distributed to warrant Watch List status but have been experiencing troubling long-term declines. Losses are due to disappearing grassland habitat. Prairie is scarce in the eastern United States, and the kinds of farms that once hosted meadowlarks—small, family farms with pastureland and grassy fields—are being replaced by larger, row-cropping agricultural operations or by development. Early mowing, overgrazing by livestock, and the use of pesticides can also harm meadowlarks nesting on private lands. Farmland conservation practices are vital to the survival of this species.

Back to top


Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Jaster, Levi A., William E. Jensen and Wesley E. Lanyon. (2012). Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Rosenberg, K. V., J. A. Kennedy, R. Dettmers, R. P. Ford, D. Reynolds, J. D. Alexander, C. J. Beardmore, P. J. Blancher, R. E. Bogart, G. S. Butcher, A. F. Camfield, A. Couturier, D. W. Demarest, W. E. Easton, J. J. Giocomo, R. H. Keller, A. E. Mini, A. O. Panjabi, D. N. Pashley, T. D. Rich, J. M Ruth, H. Stabins, J. Stanton, and T. Will (2016). Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan: 2016 Revision of Canada and Continental United States. Partners in Flight Science Committee.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

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

Back to top

Learn more at Birds of the World