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2011-12-23
Nebraska State Bird – Western Meadowlark


The Western Meadowlark - Sturnella neglecta - are permanent residents throughout much of their range. Northern birds may migrate to the southern parts of their range; some birds also move east in the southern United States. The habitat is grasslands, prairies, pastures, and abandoned fields, all of which may be found from across western and central North America to northern Mexico. Where their range overlaps with the eastern species, these birds prefer thinner, drier vegetation. They generally do not interbreed but do defend territory against one another. In winter, these birds often feed in flocks.

Description

The Western Meadowlark is the size of a robin but chunkier and shorter-tailed, with a flat head, long, slender bill, and a round-shouldered posture that nearly conceals its neck. They have yellow underparts, with a black "V" on the breast, and white flanks which are streaked with black. Their upper parts are mostly brown, but also have black streaks. These birds have long pointed bills and their heads are striped with light brown and black.

Call

It has distinctive calls described as watery or flute-like, which distinguish it from the closely related Eastern Meadowlark. Males commonly use fence posts as perches while singing.  They will sing to stake out a breeding territory which averages 7 acres in size but may vary from 3 to 15 acres.

Food

 It feeds mostly on insects, but also seeds and berries. These birds forage on the ground or in low to semi-low vegetation. They sometimes search for food by probing with their bills

Breeding

The Western Meadowlark nests on the ground in open country. Their nests are covered with a roof woven from grass. There may be more than one nesting female in a male's territory. Their nests are sometimes destroyed by mowing operations with eggs and young. An average of 5 eggs are laid and they may have two clutches per year.  The eggs are white with brown and lavender spots concentrated at the wider end.  Incubation takes two weeks and the young are full grown 6 weeks after hatching. The males will have more than one mate, up to three females may nest within its territory.

Conservation Status – Least Concern

Western Meadowlarks are abundant and widespread, but breeding populations have declined slightly throughout their range in recent years, a trend seen in Washington in both the winter and breeding seasons. Most of this decline can probably be attributed to habitat destruction from livestock grazing, mowing, and development, and contamination from pesticides. In northeastern Washington, the conversion of forested river valleys to agricultural uses may be increasing available habitat, but western Washington populations have declined significantly in recent years as the remaining prairie in this part of the state is developed, degraded by invasive plants, or altered by fire suppression. Western Meadowlarks are extremely sensitive to human disturbance during the breeding season and will abort nesting attempts if they are flushed while incubating eggs.

Bird watching

Look for them among low to medium-height grasses more so than in tall fields. They also occur along the weedy verges of roads, marsh edges, and mountain meadows up to 10,000 feet.

Nebraska Hotspots

Platte River Valley

Sandhill Cranes

Funk Wildlife Production Area (WPA)

Broken Bow

Valentine NWR

Smith Falls State Park

Niobrara NWR

Lacreek NWR (South Dakota)

Homestead National Monument

Burchard Lake

Indian Cave State Park

Valentine NWR

Lillian Annette Rowe Sanctuary

Spring Creek Prairie.

Salt Marsh

Studnicka Farm

 


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