Living Bird Magazine
Western MeadowlarkSturnella neglecta
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Icteridae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Pradero Occidental (Spanish)
- Sturnelle de l'Ouest (French)
Western Meadowlarks may come to backyards if food is offered. Although not seen regularly at feeders, they occasionally visit feeding stations in open habitats. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.
- Cool Facts
- The nest of the Western Meadowlark usually is partially covered by a grass roof. It may be completely open, however, or it may have a complete roof and an entrance tunnel several feet long.
- Although the Western Meadowlark looks nearly identical to the Eastern Meadowlark, the two species hybridize only very rarely. Mixed pairs usually occur only at the edge of the range where few mates are available. Captive breeding experiments found that hybrid meadowlarks were fertile, but produced few eggs that hatched.
- The explorer Meriwether Lewis was the first to point out the subtle differences between the birds that would eventually be known as the Eastern and Western Meadowlarks, noting in June 1805 that the tail and bill shapes as well as the song of the Western Meadowlark differed from what was then known as the “oldfield lark” in the Eastern United States.
- John James Audubon gave the Western Meadowlark its scientific name, Sturnella (starling-like) neglecta, claiming that most explorers and settlers who ventured west of the Mississippi after Lewis and Clark had overlooked this common bird.
- In 1914, California grain growers initiated one of the earliest studies of the Western Meadowlark’s diet to determine whether the bird could be designated a pest species. Although they do eat grain, Western Meadowlarks also help limit numbers of crop-damaging insects.
- Like other members of the blackbird, or icterid, family, meadowlarks use a feeding behavior called “gaping,” which relies on the unusually strong muscles that open their bill. They insert their bill into the soil, bark or other substrate, then force it open to create a hole. This gives meadowlarks access to insects and other food items that most birds can’t reach.
- The Western Meadowlark is the state bird of six states: Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wyoming. Only the Northern Cardinal is a more popular civic symbol, edging out the meadowlark by one state.
- The oldest recorded Western Meadowlark was at least 6 years, 6 months old when it was found in Colorado.
- A male Western Meadowlark usually has two mates at the same time. The females do all the incubating and brooding, and most of the feeding of the young.