Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Western Meadowlark

Sturnella neglecta

Remarkably similar to the Eastern Meadowlark in colors and pattern, this bird is recognized by its very different song and callnotes. The two species of meadowlarks evidently can easily recognize their own kind the same way; even where their ranges overlap in the Midwest and Southwest, they almost never interbreed. However, the two species do seem to see each other as potential rivals, and they actively defend territories against each other.
Conservation status Still widespread and common, but surveys indicate ongoing population declines in recent decades.
Family Blackbirds and Orioles
Habitat Grasslands, cultivated fields and pastures, meadows, prairies. Breeds mostly in natural grasslands, abandoned weedy fields, rangeland, also sometimes on cultivated land. In the Midwest, seems to prefer shorter grass and drier fields than the sites chosen by Eastern Meadowlark. In winter, often in stubble fields and other farmland.
Remarkably similar to the Eastern Meadowlark in colors and pattern, this bird is recognized by its very different song and callnotes. The two species of meadowlarks evidently can easily recognize their own kind the same way; even where their ranges overlap in the Midwest and Southwest, they almost never interbreed. However, the two species do seem to see each other as potential rivals, and they actively defend territories against each other.
Photo Gallery
  • adult, breeding
  • adult, nonbreeding
  • adult, breeding
Feeding Behavior

Forages by walking on the ground, taking insects and seeds from the ground and from low plants. Often probes in the soil with its bill. In winter, usually forages in flocks.


Eggs

3-7, usually about 5. White, heavily spotted with brown and purple, especially at larger end. Incubation is by female, about 13-15 days. Young: Both parents feed nestlings (but female does more). Young leave the nest after about 12 days, before they are able to fly, and are tended by parents for at least another 2 weeks. 2 broods per year.


Young

Both parents feed nestlings (but female does more). Young leave the nest after about 12 days, before they are able to fly, and are tended by parents for at least another 2 weeks. 2 broods per year.

Diet

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


Nesting

Male sings to defend nesting territory. One male may have more than one mate. 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. Nest: Placed on the ground, in areas with dense cover of grass, in a small hollow or depression in ground. Nest (built by female) is a domed structure with the entrance on the side, made of grass stems interwoven with the 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

Migrates relatively late in fall and early in spring. Summer range and numbers may vary in drier parts of West, with numbers of breeding birds dependent on amount of spring rainfall.

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Migration

Migrates relatively late in fall and early in spring. Summer range and numbers may vary in drier parts of West, with numbers of breeding birds dependent on amount of spring rainfall.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Rich flute-like jumble of gurgling notes, usually descending the scale; very different from Eastern Meadowlark's series of simple, plaintive whistles.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.