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Meet the Chihuahuan Meadowlark

a brown and buff bird with a yellow chest perches on dry plant stems
Chihuahuan Meadowlark by Jack Parlapiano/Macaulay Library.

According to the American Ornithological Society, there’s another meadowlark for birders to put on their life lists.

In its 63rd supplement to the Check-list of North American Birds, the AOS North American Classification Committee accepted a proposal to split out a new species—Sturnella lilianae—from the Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna).

The bird’s official common name will be the Chihuahuan Meadowlark, as part of its range runs within the Chihuahuan Desert from Arizona and New Mexico down into Mexico. The proposal was submitted by Penn State PhD student Johanna Beam, based on her undergraduate research at the University of Colorado that included vocal analyses and whole-genome sequencing for specimens of Western Meadowlark, Eastern Meadowlark, and the populations now split into Chihuahuan Meadowlark.

Western Meadowlark image by Alix D’Entremont, audio by Wil Hershberger via Macaulay Library.
Chihuahuan Meadowlark image by Bradley Hacker, audio by Bob McGuire via Macaulay Library.
Eastern Meadowlark image by Doris Brookens, audio by Robert Bethel via Macaulay Library.

“The genetic data show that Eastern Meadowlark and this new meadowlark … are actually not each other’s closest relatives,” said U.S. Geological Survey scientist Terry Chesser, who is the NACC chair. “Eastern and Western Meadowlarks are more closely related to each other than to the newly split Chihuahuan Meadowlarks.”

Beam’s research also showed a species barrier among the meadowlarks may exist as a result of their vocalizations.

“The vocal differences between Chihuahuan and Eastern Meadowlarks are similarly as strong as those between Eastern and Western Meadowlarks,” said Shawn Billerman, a science editor for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Birds of the World, who also sits on the NACC. “These vocal differences may be important in contributing to a lack of hybridization between Chihuahuan Meadowlarks and other meadowlarks.  

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American Kestrel by Blair Dudeck / Macaulay Library

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