The Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) breeds mainly in natural grasslands, abandoned weedy fields, and rangeland, but also on cultivated land. In the midwestern United States, the Western Meadowlark seems to prefer shorter grass and drier fields than those used by the Eastern Meadowlark. In winter, they are often found in stubble fields and other farmland.
The Western Meadowlark breeds from southwestern Canada and the western United States south to the highlands of central Mexico. They winter over the southern and western portion of the breeding range as well as farther to the east and south. This species has also been introduced and established on Kauai (Hawaiian Islands).
Western Meadowlarks feed mainly on insects and seeds. Seeds and waste grain make up around a third of the diet annually and are especially important in fall and winter.
The male Western Meadowlark defends his nesting territory by singing. In courtship, the male faces the female, puffs out his chest feathers and points his bill straight up, prominently displaying the black "V" on his bright yellow underparts, spreads his tail wide, and flicks his wings. Males may mate with more than one female. The nest is built by the female on the ground in a small depression in dense grass. It is a domed structure made of grass stems with the entrance on the side, often with narrow trails leading through the grass to the nest. The 3 to 7 eggs, which are white and heavily spotted with brown and purple, are incubated by the female for 13 to 15 days. Both parents (but especially the female) feed the nestlings, which leave the nest at around 12 days, at which point they are still unable to fly and are tended by parents for at least two more weeks. Two broods per year are typical.
The Western Meadowlark is extremely similar to the Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna) in color and pattern, but has a very different song. The two generally do not interbreed where their ranges overlap and hybrids are largely sterile (Lanyon 1979), but they do actively defend their territories against members of the other species. Birds in the dry desert grasslands of the southwestern United States and adjacent Mexico may represent a distinct species, referred to as Lilian's Meadowlark (S. lilianae) (Barker et al. 2008).
(Kaufman 1996; AOU 1998)
- American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check-list of North American Birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
- Barker, F.K., A.J. Vandergon, and S.M. Lanyon. Assessment of Species Limits Among Yellow-Breasted Meadowlarks (Sturnella Spp.) Using Mitochondrial and Sex-Linked Markers. The Auk 125: 869-879.
- Kaufman, K. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
- Lanyon, W.E. 1979. Hybrid sterility in meadowlarks, Nature 279: 557-558.
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