Pampas meadowlark (Sturnella defilippii)

Also known as: lesser red-breasted meadowlark
Synonyms: Sturnella defilippi, Sturnella militaris
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderPasseriformes
FamilyIcteridae
GenusSturnella (1)
SizeLength: 21 cm (2)
Weight60 - 72 g (3) (4)

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

The male pampas meadowlark is a rather striking bird, with a bright red throat and breast and a contrasting dark, blackish body, edged in brown (2) (3) (4) (5). The face bears a small, bright red stripe above the eye, and a distinct, cream-coloured ‘eyebrow’ stripe. The underwing is black (2) (3). The female pampas meadowlark is duller brown and more streaked, with a buff-coloured throat and a smaller, paler pinky-red area on the belly (2) (3) (4) (5). The species is quite similar in appearance to the long-tailed meadowlark (Sturnella loyca) and white-browed blackbird (Sturnella superciliaris), with which its range overlaps, and is intermediate in size between the two (3). However, S. loyca has browner colouration, a longer tail, and pale, not black, underwings, while S. superciliaris has a much shorter beak (2). The pampas meadowlark sings with a series of short, buzzy, high-pitched notes, and the call is a dull, raspy ‘jzeet’ (2).

The pampas meadowlark is restricted to parts of eastern Argentina, with smaller numbers in eastern Uruguay and the extreme south of Brazil (2) (4) (5).

The pampas meadowlark inhabits natural open grasslands, usually avoiding shrubby and forested areas and field edges (4) (6). The species will sometimes use planted pastures and cultivated fields, but only where grazing is not intensive and vegetation height is not too low (2).

Meadowlarks are often seen walking about in the open or perching on fences or clumps of grass (5). The diet is thought to include seeds, shoots and insects (2) (3), and may comprise mainly insect larvae when feeding young (3). The pampas meadowlark nests in groups, which range in size from around 2 to as many as 66 breeding males (4). The male meadowlarks maintain small territories (6), which are also defended against neighbouring white-browed blackbirds (3). Males perform a regular and conspicuous display, perching on low tufts of grass to sing, and singing while making an ascending flight (3) (6). Breeding occurs from November to December, and the nest is built on the ground, concealed under a tuft of grass (4) (6). The nest itself is cup-shaped, constructed mainly from grass, and the nests of the group are usually arranged in a cluster (7). Three to four eggs are laid (2) (7), but in one study around half of all nests suffered predation (7).

Once common and widespread across much of the pampas grasslands of Argentina, Uruguay and southern Brazil, the range of the pampas meadowlark has decreased by 90 percent since 1900 (2) (4) (8). With a population estimated at just 7,500 adult birds, the pampas meadowlark may now occupy a total area of no more than 150 square kilometres (8), a decline due primarily to habitat loss as natural grasslands have been converted for intensive agriculture and cattle ranching (2) (4) (5) (6). The pampas grasslands are believed to be one of the most severely degraded ecosystems in Argentina (7) (9), and the rate of grassland conversion is outstripping the rate of grassland regeneration by about three to one (2).

Habitat loss may also have knock-on impacts on the pampas meadowlark, decreasing nesting success though trampling cattle, increased predation, and by benefiting brood parasites like the shiny cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis) (2) (4). Overgrazing and inadequate management of fields also degrade breeding habitat (6), and competition with the long-tailed meadowlark and white-browed blackbird may negatively impact the pampas meadowlark (2) (4). Some trapping of pampas meadowlarks for trade has also been reported, but is not extensive (2).

Although recent surveys suggest the pampas meadowlark is not as scarce as previously thought, ongoing habitat loss and the continued contraction of the species’ range mean it needs close monitoring (2) (4) (5). In light of these threats, some have suggested that the species should be uplisted to Endangered (8). The pampas meadowlark is protected by law in Brazil and Uruguay, and trapping is banned in Argentina (2). Other conservation measures proposed include surveying and monitoring populations, and investigating the threats posed by predation, nest trampling, brood parasitism, and competition with other Sturnella species. It will also be important to monitor the pampas meadowlark’s preferred habitat, and to monitor agricultural land to ensure habitat loss does not exceed habitat gain (2) (4).

To find out more about the pampas meadowlark, and the threats faced by its habitat, see:

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:
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  1. IUCN Red List (May, 2009)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org
  2. BirdLife International (May, 2009)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=9719&m=0
  3. Gochfeld, M. (1979) Interspecific territoriality in red-breasted meadowlarks and a method for estimating the mutuality of their participation. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 5: 159 - 170.
  4. Gabelli, F.M., Fernández, G.J., Ferretti, V., Posse, G., Coconier, E., Gavieiro, H.J., Llambías, P.E., Peláez, P.I., Vallés, M.L. and Tubaro, P.L. (2004) Range contraction in the pampas meadowlark Sturnella defilippii in the southern pampas grasslands of Argentina. Oryx, 38(2): 164 - 170.
  5. Ridgely, R.S. and Tudor, G. (1989) The Birds of South America: The Oscine Passerines. Volume I. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas.
  6. Fernández, G.J., Posse, G., Ferretti, V. and Gabelli, F.M. (2003) Bird-habitat relationship for the declining Pampas meadowlark populations in the southern Pampas grasslands. Biological Conservation, 115: 139 - 148.
  7. Cozzani, N.C., Sanchez, R. and Zalba, S.M. (2004) Nidificación de la loica pampeana (Sturnella defilippii) en la provincial de Buenos Aires, Argentina. Hornero, 19(2): 47 - 52.
  8. Tubaro, P.L. and Gabelli, F.M. (1999) The decline of the pampas meadowlark: difficulties of applying the IUCN criteria to Neotropical grassland birds. Studies in Avian Biology, 19: 250 - 257.
  9. WWF: Humid Pampas (May, 2009)
    http://www.worldwildlife.org/wildworld/profiles/terrestrial/nt/nt0803_full.html