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Bird of the Week: Western Meadowlark

Okanogan Country | 04/08/2019 | Blog, Methow Valley, The Great Outdoors, Wildlife Viewing

"Western Meadowlarks are some of the first birds to come back to the Methow in early spring, and they aren't shy about announcing their arrival. For many of us in the Methow they are a favorite bird, partly for their size and bright yellow and black chests, but mostly for their loud, melodious song that travels great distances across the shrub-steppe. A few years ago, I was not surprised to learn that they are in the Blackbird Family, which is generally a flashy, loud and gregarious group including not just a variety of blackbird species but Orioles too. Watch for them singing from the tops of bitterbrush, sage, fences and poles, but watch your step too because they nest on the ground!"

--Mary Kiesau | Local Naturalist and Photographer, 

According to the Seattle Audubon Society, Western Meadowlarks look distinctively different from other members of the blackbird family in Washington. They have streaked brown upper parts and solid yellow underparts with a distinct black collar. The yellow and black are both more intense during the breeding season. They have long legs and short tails with white outer tail-feathers that are obvious in flight.

Behavior

Western Meadowlarks flock in winter in single-species groups, or with other blackbirds and starlings. Meadowlarks forage mostly on the ground, running or walking, and probing the soil with their bills. In early spring, Western Meadowlarks sing continually from shrub tops, fence posts, utility poles, or any other high structure in their open-country habitat.

Habitat

Meadowlarks are open-country birds. They inhabit grasslands, shrub-steppe, and agricultural areas. During winter, they can often be found in cultivated fields and wet grasslands

Diet

During the summer, insects make up most of the diet. In fall and winter, seeds and waste grain become more important.

Nesting

Western Meadowlarks nest on the ground, often in small dips or hollows, such as those created by cow footprints. Nests are typically under dense vegetation and can be very difficult to find. Western Meadowlarks are polygynous. Successful males generally mate with two females at a time. Females build the nests, which are grass domes with side entrances. The nest materials are often interwoven with adjacent growth, and small trails may form through the grass to the nests. Females incubate 4 to 6 eggs for 13 to 14 days. The females brood the young after they hatch and provide most of the food, although the male may help. The young leave the nest 10 to 12 days after hatching. They cannot fly at this age but can run well, and, with the help of cryptic plumage, can hide successfully in the grass. Females often raise two broods a season.

Learn More About the Western Meadowlark

Photos by Mary Kiesau, Mountain Kind Photography

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