As Grasslands Disappear, so Goes the Melodious Meadowlark

Birds that rely on grassy habitats are among the fastest declining species in North America.

This audio story is brought to you by BirdNote, a partner of The National Audubon Society. BirdNote episodes air daily on public radio stations nationwide.


This is BirdNote.

With their bright yellow breasts and superlative songs, meadowlarks are among our most familiar and cherished birds. 

The Eastern Meadowlark’s clear, whistled music is the unmistakable anthem of eastern North America’s farmlands and open country. The Western Meadowlark and its sweet, liquid notes epitomize the natural expanses of the American West. 

Sadly, both meadowlarks face ominous threats. True to their name, they are birds of meadows and grasslands. Birds of such grassy habitats are among the fastest declining species in North America. 

How could this happen? Well, with most native grasslands transformed by settlement and farming, meadowlarks have turned to pastures and hayfields as habitat. But here, their nesting is often disturbed by overgrazing, the cutting of hay, and seasonal burning. More permanently disruptive: Vast tracts of farmland are succumbing to suburban development. 

The meadowlarks’ best hope for the future lies in farmland and grassland conservation. There are agricultural practices that are compatible with the needs of birds – such as delaying hay-cutting until nesting birds have fledged. And the Conservation Reserve Program enables landowners to keep their acreage in grasslands. 

For BirdNote, I’m Mary McCann.



Written by Bob Sundstrom

Producer: John Kessler

Executive Producer: Chris Peterson

Bird sounds provided by The Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York.  Eastern Meadowlark recorded by LNS 106881 R.S. Little (NY state), Western Meadowlark by G. Vyn LNS 137513.
BirdNote's theme music was composed and played by Nancy Rumbel and produced by John Kessler.

© 2015 Tune In to        

June 2017  ID# SotB-meadowlarks-01