The Meadowlark - True Harbinger of Spring

By Dave Hanks

The song of the WESTERN MEADOWLARK is one of the prettiest and most recognizable songs in the range of bird songs. The bird is so nicely colored that it’s hard to visualize it in the blackbird family (Icteridae). Its long, slender bill is characteristic of this family, which contains 97 species. The meadowlark’s most noticeable feature is its bright yellow chest with a black V upon it.

The male arrives on the breeding ground a couple of weeks before the female. He stakes out his territory of about 6 to 7 acres, and then proceeds to proclaim it by sitting on a fence post and singing his distinctive song. If another male dares to encroach, a fight will result. The two will lock feet and then peck at each other. When the “girls” arrive, he will point his bill skyward, puff out his yellow throat, and flap his wings. If that doesn’t work, he’ll hop up and down.

The male invites the female to build a nest, in the meadow, by lying on the ground and flipping pieces of grass. The forming of the nest cup is of the first importance. The bird will lie in the nesting material and move its body back and forth while pushing with its feet to form a depression. Once the cup is formed, the construction of the sides and dome, to protect the chicks from the weather, can proceed.

When we drive through grasslands, we see meadowlarks on fence wires and posts. They invariably turn their back to us when we get close, which makes it difficult to see their colorful chest. This acquaintance with it’s “rear-end”, makes us call it the “backward bird”. When it flies away, the brown back with white in the tail helps recognize this chunky species.

This state bird of Montana, Oregon, and Kansas is a delight to hear singing on a spring morning.

(Bursting with song)