Photo: Rick & Nora Bowers/Vireo

Eastern Meadowlark

Sturnella magna

A familiar bird, known by the black "V" on its chest when it sings from a fencepost, or by the flash of white tail feathers when it flushes from the grass. The clear whistled song of the Eastern Meadowlark can be heard in spring not only in the East but also in desert grasslands of the Southwest. Some scientists believe that the southwestern form is actually a different species. Other races of the Eastern Meadowlark are widespread in Central America and northern South America.
Conservation status The species probably increased in numbers during the 1700s and 1800s as forests were cleared and turned into farmland. However, populations generally have been declining in the East in recent decades. The decrease in amount and quality of habitat is the most likely cause.
Family Blackbirds and Orioles
Habitat Open fields and pastures, meadows, prairies. Breeds in natural grasslands, meadows, weedy pastures, also in hayfields and sometimes in fields of other crops. Winters in many kinds of natural and cultivated fields. In the Midwest, tends to prefer taller and lusher grass than Western Meadowlark, but in the Southwest it lives in very arid desert grasslands.
A familiar bird, known by the black "V" on its chest when it sings from a fencepost, or by the flash of white tail feathers when it flushes from the grass. The clear whistled song of the Eastern Meadowlark can be heard in spring not only in the East but also in desert grasslands of the Southwest. Some scientists believe that the southwestern form is actually a different species. Other races of the Eastern Meadowlark are widespread in Central America and northern South America.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, breeding
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • adult, breeding
  • adult, breeding
Feeding Behavior

Forages by walking on the ground, taking insects and seeds from the ground and from low plants. May probe in the soil with its bill. In winter, may forage in flocks.


Eggs

3-5, sometimes up to 7. White, heavily spotted with brown and purple. Incubation is by female, about 13-15 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings (but female does more). Young leave nest after 11-12 days, when still unable to fly, and are tended by parents for at least 2 more weeks. 2 broods per year.


Young

Both parents feed nestlings (but female does more). Young leave nest after 11-12 days, when still unable to fly, and are tended by parents for at least 2 more weeks. 2 broods per year.

Diet

Mostly insects and seeds. Majority of diet consists of insects, especially in summer, when it eats many grasshoppers, crickets, beetles and their larvae, caterpillars, ants, true bugs, and others; also spiders. Seeds and waste grain make up over one-fourth of annual diet, and are eaten especially in fall and winter.


Nesting

Male defends nesting territory by singing. In courtship, male faces female, puffs out chest feathers and points bill straight up to show off black "V," spreads tail widely, and flicks wings; he may even jump in the air in this posture. Male may have more than one mate. Nest: Placed on the ground, in areas with dense grass and other low cover, in a small depression in soil. Nest (built by female) is a domed structure with the entrance on the side, made of grass stems interwoven with surrounding growth. Usually has narrow trails or "runways" leading to nest through the grass.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

Present all year in most of range, although only small numbers usually remain through winter in North. Migrants arrive rather early in spring and linger late in fall.

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Migration

Present all year in most of range, although only small numbers usually remain through winter in North. Migrants arrive rather early in spring and linger late in fall.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Clear, mellow whistle, see-you, see-yeeeer; also a loud rattling alarm note.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.