Eastern meadowlarks breed in native grasslands, pastures, savannas, alfalfa and hay fields, cropland borders, roadsides, orchards, golf courses, airports, reclaimed strip mines, overgrown fields, and other open areas. In the western range, the breeding range also consists of tall-grass prairies and desert grassland. In the winter they are generally found in open country, cultivated fields, feedlots, and marshes. Eastern meadowlarks are generally found in habitats that are more mesic than their close relative, western meadowlarks (S. neglecta). ("Eastern Meadowlark", 1992; Elliott and Read, 1998; Lanyon, 1995)
Eastern meadowlarks are medium-sized songbirds, with long, slender, light gray bills and dark brown eyes. The tails are short and have rigid rectrices. The legs and toes are long. Male ("Eastern Meadowlark", 1992; "Birdnature.com", 2002; Campbell, 1973; Lanyon, 1995)have grayish heads with blackish stripes, a yellow “eyebrow”, and dark crowns with a median stripe. The wings and tail are streaked and barred with dark and light brown. Males have a broad white moustachial stripe and a yellow chin, which is divided from the underparts by a broad black breast band. The underparts turn off-white on the streaked flanks and under the tail coverts. The pale undertail coverts are streaked and spotted dusky black. Females are similar to males except that they are smaller, paler, and have a narrower breast band. Males are slightly larger than females, from 21 to 25 cm in length, females are from 19 to 23 cm. Juvenile eastern meadowlarks have masked black areas and the white areas are buffish. Juveniles also have more brown plumage in the winter. Eastern meadowlark eggs are white, speckled with reddish-brown. When these birds walk, the tail constantly jerks open. These birds fly by beating their wings vigorously and then gliding.
Males establish their territories in March, females arrive about two to four weeks later females. Male eastern meadowlarks rarely engage in body contact and fighting when defending their territories, however, when it does occur it can be quite severe. Pairing occurs immediately after females arrive. The "aerial chase" occurs within minutes of a female choosing a male. The female typically initiates the chase, although sometimes the chase includes two females and one male. The aerial chase consists of either a series of short flights or as brief flights interspersed with periods of posturing and rest. Additionally, the male is typically silent during the aerial chase. These chases usually carry the participants well beyond the boundaries of the male’s territory. When a female eastern meadowlark is receptive, she eventually assumes the receptive posture, at which time the male will approach, paw the female’s back and then mount. Afterwards the female remains in a semi-receptive position and flutters and shakes its plumage, chatters several times, then vigorously preens itself. The female receptive posture consists of the female elevating its bill and tail, holding its wings slightly drooped, and quivering, sometimes the female also chatters. Later on in the breeding season "jump-flights" and tee-tee-tee calls may accompany the receptive posture. However, if a male approaches when the female is not receptive, the female will use "expansion posturing" to warn off the male. Also, males and females make jump-flights before and during repeated copulation periods. A jump-flight consists of the bird jumping approximately one meter into the air and then flying several meters. Once the breeding season is over, male S. magna cease defending their territories. (Campbell, 1973; "Behavior", 2005; Francq, 1972; Lanyon, 1995)
Female eastern meadowlarks gather nest materials and build the nest. The nest consists of coarse grasses, lined with finer grasses and is constructed on the ground, typically in a shallow depression. The outside diameter of the nest ranges from 14-21 cm, the inside diameter ranges from 8-15 cm, and the inside depth ranges from 5-8 cm. Female S. magna land a distance away from the nest and then stealthily approach the nest. (Campbell, 1973; "Behavior", 2005; Lanyon, 1995)
Females incubate the eggs for 13 to 15 days, when the altricial young hatch. After the eggs hatch both the female and her mate feed the hatchlings. However, females do most of the feeding. Nestlings typically fledge 11 to 12 days after hatching, but juveniles do not become independent for at least another two weeks. The parents continue to feed the fledglings until they become independent. (Campbell, 1973; "Breeding", 2005; Lanyon, 1995)
Eastern meadowlarks have an expected lifespan of five years in the wild, which is the same as the high end of its expected lifespan in captivity. The longest know lifespan in the wild is nine years. (Lanyon, 1995)
Eastern meadowlarks are social, forming loose flocks during the fall and winter. These flocks lack a social hierarchy and are simply a loose aggregation of S. neglecta (western meadowlarks). They use a variety of songs, calls and postures to communicate with other meadowlarks. Also, where eastern and western meadowlark ranges overlap, male eastern meadowlarks will defend against male eastern and western meadowlarks. Males typically defend their territories with posturing and aerial displays.and occasionally,
Both male and female S. magna often preen and stretch, especially in the early morning hours. Stretching, specifically of the legs and wings, usually follows preening. They also tend to scratch their head with their foot, which they bring up over their wing. Sturnella magna bathes in puddles and wet grass. Sturnella magna roosts on the ground in thick grass, with its head under its scapulars and its body resting on the ground. ("Behavior", 2005; Lanyon, 1995)
Posturing and aerial chases are used to attract and pursue possible mates. Jump-flights are used to ward off males that are intruding on another male’s territory. Bill-tilting and tail- and wing-flashing are used in territorial disputes, as is expansion posturing. Expansion posturing is when individuals extend their contour feathers, spread the tail, and draws the head close to the body. Female ("Eastern Meadowlark", 1992; "Behavior", 2005; Elliott and Read, 1998; Lanyon, 1995)use expansion posturing to warn off its mate when the female is unreceptive. If expansion posturing does not succeed in warning off the male, the female will hold its feathers tight against its body and point its gaping bill at the male. Male eastern meadowlarks also use expansion posturing after the formation of the pair bond.
Eastern meadowlarks walk and run on the ground while foraging for food, they also forage by probing beneath the soil. Their diet varies with the season. In the spring they feed mainly on cutworms, grubs, and caterpillars. When summer comes they eat insects, primarily beetles and grasshoppers. In the winter they eat noxious weed seeds and waste grains as well as some wildfruits and occasional carrion from road-kill or predator-kills. (Campbell, 1973; Lanyon, 1995)
Eastern meadowlarks are preyed on by hawks and falcons and occasionally by owls. They are most likely to be preyed upon by owls during the owl’s breeding season. While the owls are raising their young, they are more likely to hunt during daylight hours, in order to catch enough prey to feed the chicks. Hawks and falcons are diurnal, and often hunt in similar habitats. During their nesting season, domestic cats, dogs, foxes, coyotes, and skunks prey upon the eggs and nestlings. Eastern meadowlark coloration helps them to blend in to their grassland surroundings, they can be difficult to spot unless they are on a high perch. (Grossman and Hamlet, 1964; Lanyon, 1995)
Eastern meadowlarks are prey for larger predators and they prey on a variety of insects, including grubs and caterpillars, which could damage the surrounding vegetation. They also act to disperse the sees of plants they eat. brown-headed cowbirds. Brown-headed cowbirds are obligate parasites, which lay eggs in the nests of other species of birds. ("Western Meadowlark", 2003; "Birdnature.com", 2002; Campbell, 1973; "Demography and Populations", 2005; Grossman and Hamlet, 1964; Lanyon, 1995; Stark, 1940; Taylor, 1969)serves as a host for a variety of internal and external parasites, and for
According to the IUCN Red List, the U.S. Federal List, and the State of Michigan List, eastern meadowlarks have no special status. They are not threatened, likely to become threatened, or endangered. This agrees with the Audubon Society's assessment of ("State of the Birds: Grasslands", 2005). Eastern meadowlarks fall into the Audubon Society's green conservation status, which means that it is of low or no conservation concern. However, populations have been experiencing a significant population decline, declining by as much as 50% since 1966.
Eastern meadowlarks are not true larks; rather they belong to the same family as blackbirds and orioles (Icteridae). There are about 18 recognized subspecies of the eastern meadowlark.
Tanya Dewey (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Tamar Dexheimer (author), Kalamazoo College, Ann Fraser (editor, instructor), Kalamazoo College.
living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.
living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.
uses sound to communicate
living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.
helps break down and decompose dead plants and/or animals
an animal that mainly eats meat
flesh of dead animals.
uses smells or other chemicals to communicate
having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.
animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.
an animal that mainly eats seeds
An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.
An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.
offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).
makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds
having the capacity to move from one place to another.
the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.
reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.
having more than one female as a mate at one time
breeding is confined to a particular season
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
associates with others of its species; forms social groups.
digs and breaks up soil so air and water can get in
living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
Living on the ground.
defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement
the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.
A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.
A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.
A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.
uses sight to communicate
Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2005. "Behavior" (On-line). Birds of North America Online. Accessed November 19, 2005 at http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/BNA/account/Eastern_Meadowlark/BEHAVIOR.html.
Birdnature.com. 2002. "Birdnature.com" (On-line). Accessed October 01, 2005 at http://www.birdnature.com/meadowlark.html.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2005. "Breeding" (On-line). Birds of North America Online. Accessed November 19, 2005 at http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/BNA/account/Eastern_Meadowlark/BREEDING.html.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2005. "Demography and Populations" (On-line). Birds of North America Online. Accessed November 19, 2005 at http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/BNA/account/Eastern_Meadowlark/DEMOGRAPHY_AND_POPULATIONS.html.
Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2003. "Eastern Meadowlark" (On-line). Accessed November 13, 2005 at http://www.birds.cornell.edu/programs/AllAboutBirds/BirdGuide/Eastern_Meadowlark.html.
1992. Eastern Meadowlark. Pp. 345 in R Zeleny, ed. The World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 13. Chicago: World Book Inc..
National Audubon Society. 2005. "State of the Birds: Grasslands" (On-line). Accessed October 11, 2005 at http://www.audubon.org/bird/stateofthebirds/grasslands.html.
2003. Western Meadowlark. Pp. 316 in M Hutchins, ed. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. 11. Detroit: Gale Group Inc..
Campbell, B. 1973. Sturnella magna. Pp. 337 in R Holmes, ed. The Dictionary of Birds in Color. New York: The Viking Press.
Elliott, L., M. Read. 1998. Common Birds And Their Tongs. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Francq, G. 1972. Parental care of the eastern meadowlark (Sturnella magna). Kansas: Kansas State Teachers College.
Grossman, M., J. Hamlet. 1964. Birds of Prey of the World. New York: Bonanaza Books.
Lanyon, W. 1995. Eastern Meadowlark: Sturnella magna. Washington D. C.: American Ornithologists' Union.
Nack, J., C. Ribic. 2005. Apparent predation by cattle at grassland bird nests. Wilson Bulletin, 117: 56-62.
Stark, F. 1940. A study of the animal parasites of Sturnella magna magna and Sturnella neglecta of southeastern Kansas. Pittsburg, Kansas: Kansas State Teachers College.
Taylor, R. 1969. Histological study of host-parasite relations between meadowlarks (Sturnella) and Microtetrameres Sturnellae (Nematoda: Tetrameridae). Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Graduate College.