Photo courtesy Charles Martinez
This week’s Bird of the Week, compliments of the Weminuche Audubon Society and Audubon Rockies, is the western meadowlark.
When the Lewis and Clark expedition traveled west in 1805, Lewis noted a bird nearly physically identical to the bird known as the old field lark (sturnella magna) in the east.
The western bird’s song was so different from that of the eastern that it kept the populations separate. Forty years later, feeling that this bird had been overlooked, Audubon gave the western meadowlark species status with the scientific name of sturnella neglecta.
Meadowlarks have a bright yellow breast with a black V shape in the center. The dark brown, streaked feathers of the back provide camouflage in their grassy habitat. White outer feathers of the tail flash in flight.
The flute-like song of the western meadowlark rings across open grasslands, meadows and fields in spring and early summer. Males may spend a month staking out and defending a breeding territory before females arrive. Songs may serve as audible fences to keep rivals out, and physical fence posts serve as ideal places to perch and sing.
Meadowlarks exhibit seasonal preferences in diet, utilizing what is most nutritious at the time. In summer, they feed on invertebrates, including some that are agricultural pests. In late fall they switch to weed seeds, adding grains in spring. Like other members of their blackbird family, they feed in a method known as gaping. Using strong muscles, they open their bill after sticking it in the ground or bark to create a hole and capture buried insects unavailable to many birds.
Faring better than many grassland birds, western meadowlarks are still widespread and common.
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