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Eastern Meadowlark

Sturnella magna

Eastern Meadowlark

New York Status: Not Listed
Federal Status: Not Listed

Description

This medium-sized songbird is often seen singing from elevated perches, such as fence posts and telephone lines, in the grasslands of eastern North America. Adults usually range in size from 7.5 - 10.2 inches (19-26 cm), with the males being slightly larger than females. Males are pale brown marked with black, and have bright-yellow underparts and a black crescent across their chests. Females are similar in coloration, but are slightly duller with the black crescent being more limited. During flight, the outer white tail feathers are visible, and their rounded wings, short tails, and long bills help distinguish them from other grassland songbirds. Males are very vocal during the breeding season, and their "Spring is here!" song often indicates that winter has come to an end in New York.

Life History

Eastern Meadowlark Species Range Map

Eastern Meadowlarks are sedentary throughout much of their breeding range, and pairing tends to occur in early April. Nest construction begins a week later, and is completed solely by the female. She builds a cup nest woven with dead grasses, plant stems, and strips of bark often in a small depression, typically well hidden by dense vegetation. The clutch size ranges from 2 - 7 eggs with an incubation period of 13 - 16 days. The young are naked and helpless upon hatching, and remain in the nest for 10 - 12 days. The female may have two broods in a nesting season depending on the success of the first brood. People should not approach meadowlarks when they are nesting, as the female will abandon her eggs if she is flushed off the nest. Eastern Meadowlarks use their long bills to probe for insects; crickets, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and grubs, as they walk on the ground.

Distribution and Habitat

The Eastern Meadowlark prefers larger, adjacent areas of grazed pastures and grasslands. Their breeding range extends from southeastern Canada, west to the Great Plains and Great Lakes regions, and south along the Appalachian Mountain corridor. Eastern Meadowlarks remain year-round throughout much of the grasslands of the eastern United States. Eastern Meadowlarks are also found in parts of Central and South America throughout the whole year. In the winter, those individuals living in the northern-most portions of the breeding range will migrate to southern areas in order to forage.

Status

Although still common throughout much of the eastern United States, the population numbers have significantly declined over the past few decades due to disappearing grassland habitat mostly caused by development, forest succession, and large-scale agricultural operations. The habitat of the Eastern Meadowlark is also decreasing in New York, especially in the southeastern part of the state and on Long Island.

Management and Research Needs

Eastern Meadowlark Breeding Bird Atlas Map

According to the State of the Birds 2011 report, more than 95% of their distribution is on private lands, meaning that farmland conservation practices are vital to their survival. Agricultural practices directly affect breeding populations through degradation of suitable habitat, grazing and trampling by livestock, and mortality from early mowing and use of pesticides and other contaminants. Therefore, land-use practices providing suitable nesting habitat should be encouraged, particularly increased acreage in pasture, hay fields, and natural grasslands. Mowing may enhance habitat quality, but should be delayed until mid-August to avoid destruction of nests and young.

Additional References

Dunne, P. 2006. Pete Dunne's Essential Field Guide Companion. Houghton Mifflin, New York.

Lanyon, Wesley E. 1995. Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative, U.S. Committee, 2011. The State of the Birds 2011 Report on Public Lands and Waters. U.S. Department of the Interior: Washington, DC.

Smith, C.R. 1997. Use of public grazing lands by Henslow's Sparrows, Grasshopper Sparrows, and associated grassland species in central New York State. Pages 171-186 in Grasslands of northeastern North America: ecology and conservation of native and agricultural landscapes (P.D. Vickery and P.W. Dunwiddie, Eds.). Massachusetts Audubon Society, Lincoln, MA.

Smith, C. R. 2008. Eastern Meadowlark. Sturnella magna. Pages 592-593 in McGowan, K. J. and K. Corwin, Eds. The Second Atlas of Breeding Birds in New York State. Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, NY.

USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. 2011. Longevity Records of North American Birds.