Eastern meadowlark (Sturnella magna)

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Eastern meadowlark male on fence post, singing
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Eastern meadowlark fact file

Eastern meadowlark description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyIcteridae
GenusSturnella (1)

A common sight on farmland and open country, the eastern meadowlark (Sturnella magna) is not actually a lark (family Alaudidae), but rather belongs to the family that also includes the blackbirds and orioles (family Icteridae) (2). Its whistling song is seen as an indication of the arrival of spring, making this brightly-coloured songbird popular among people (3).

The eastern meadowlark is a medium-sized songbird with a slender bill (3). The feathers on its back are a mixture of browns and blacks, with an overlaid pattern of darker streaks and bars. Its underparts are bright yellow and there is a black ‘V’ across the chest (2) (3). The male and female are similar in colour, though the female tends to be smaller in size (3).

This species can be difficult to distinguish from the western meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) which shares some of the eastern meadowlark’s range. The difference in song is the most reliable means of identification, with the western meadowlark having a more complex and musical repertoire (2) (3).

Synonyms
Sturnella lilianae.
Size
Length: 19 - 26 cm (2)
Wingspan: 35 - 40 cm (2)
Weight
90 - 150 g (2)
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Eastern meadowlark biology

The eastern meadowlark is a ground forager, searching for its invertebrate prey while walking or running along the ground, as well as probing beneath the soil with its beak (3). Its diet consists mainly of grasshoppers and crickets, with caterpillars, grubs and seeds also being taken (3).

The breeding season for the eastern meadowlark occurs between late March and August, and begins with the male establishing and defending a territory. During territorial disputes, the male will use singing, posturing and jump-flights, where they spring upwards and fly to a point several metres away with fluttering wing gestures (3). Each male usually pairs with two females, with courtship displays between the pairs including aerial chases and jump-flights (2) (3).

The female eastern meadowlark is solely responsible for the construction of the nest, which is built on the ground out of grasses woven into surrounding vegetation (2). The structure of the nest can vary, with some having a roof and even a runway leading to the entrance (2) (3). The clutch size is between 2 and 6 eggs and these are incubated by the female for 13 to 14 days (3). The naked hatchlings are fed mainly by the female, though the male will assist occasionally (3). The young fledge at around 10 to 12 days old and rely on the adult birds for food for a further 2 weeks (3).

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Eastern meadowlark range

The eastern meadowlark is one of the most widely distributed species of songbird. It is native to North and Central America, with its range extending into South America (2).

It is present throughout the year in much of eastern North America, Central America and the north of South America, breeding from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, south to the north-east of Brazil (3).

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Eastern meadowlark habitat

The eastern meadowlark is most commonly found in open habitats, such as native grasslands and pastures. It can also be found on human altered habitats, such as crop fields, roadsides and golf courses (3).

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Eastern meadowlark status

The Eastern meadowlark is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Least Concern

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Eastern meadowlark threats

Despite being relatively common, the eastern meadowlark appears to be declining throughout its North American range (3) (4). Agricultural practices have led to the degradation of suitable breeding habitat and this species is also sensitive to human encroachment, often abandoning nests if disturbed (3).

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Eastern meadowlark conservation

Although there are currently no specific conservation actions aimed at the eastern meadowlark, recommendations for future management of this species include encouraging land-use practices that provide suitable nesting habitat (3). Increasing the amount of hay fields, natural grasslands and delaying the mowing of farm lands until after the nesting season are all thought to be beneficial to the eastern meadowlark (3).

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Find out more

Find out more about the eastern meadowlark:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Incubate
To keep eggs warm so that development is possible.
Invertebrates
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
Territorial
Describes an animal, a pair of animals or a group that occupies and defends an area.
Territory
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a group.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2011)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Cornell Lab of Ornithology: All About Birds - Eastern meadowlark, Sturnella magna (September, 2011)
    http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Eastern_Meadowlark/id
  3. Lanyon, W.E. (1995) Eastern meadowlark (Sturnella magna). In: Poole, A. (Ed.) The Birds of North America Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
    http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/160
  4. BirdLife International (September, 2011)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=32505
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Image credit

Eastern meadowlark male on fence post, singing  
Eastern meadowlark male on fence post, singing

© Gerrit Vyn / naturepl.com

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