The Western Meadlowlark, a medium-sized songbird, graces the U.S. from the Mississippi River westward. They live in prairies and grasslands and are sometimes heard before they are seen. Either way you find them, by sight or by sound, it is an earthly joy.
They feed on the ground, eating insects and grain seeds; and also nest there. One of the best tools for identifying any kind of bird is where the bird was seen; that is, its behavior. Birds that perch in tall trees or soar in updrafts, for example, are identified by these characteristics. Other birds, like the meadowlark, are readily associated with the ground.
In 1844 John James Audubon reported a meadowlark west of the Mississippi that looked like the familiar Eastern Meadowlark, but sounded different. Thereafter the meadowlark was the subject of debate for a century. Today these two birds are identified separately and although there is some overlap in their territories, the two species are basically delineated by the Mississippi River. In the same family as blackbirds and not at all related to larks, the meadowlark is strictly a New World bird.
A much-loved bird for its vibrant colors and soul-melting song, the Western Meadowlark is the state bird for six states: Montana, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, and Wyoming.
Sturnella neglecta flocks can often be seen as you drive down quiet back roads surrounded by open, grassy areas. The motion of the car will sometimes flush the birds, which is a great time to slow down and observe. If you’re lucky, one may perch on a fence post and pose for you, while a few others darlings are hidden in the grass singing their flutey melodies.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander