Adults have a bright yellow belly with a thick black necklace-like “V” on their neck. Upper feathers are brown-grey with black spots, and the sharp bill is long and grey. Calls are loud and buzzy, and the male’s song is a series of loud whistles. The whistled notes have been assigned the pneumonic: “See-you at school-today” or “This is the year”.
The Eastern Meadowlark eats a variety of insects and seeds, either from the ground or in low vegetation. In the spring they eat caterpillars and cutworms, and then later in August the Eastern Meadowlark switches to mainly crickets and grasshoppers. They have also been known to feed on the eggs of other bird species. During migration they primarily eat seeds and berries.
Biology and Behaviour:
In Canada, males return in April, and pair bonds are formed two to four weeks later when the females return. Males will mate with up to three females, and will fiercely defend their territory if threatened. They are likely to return to the same territory in subsequent years if it was successful. Female builds a nest on the ground that is hidden within tall grasses. Females incubate the eggs for about two weeks, and nestlings fledge after 10-12 days. Parents care for their young for another two weeks after they leave the nest. For Eastern Meadowlarks, nest success is fairly low. Many eggs are either preyed upon, or are unsuccessful in hatching. The female may lay a second brood if the first was unsuccessful. However, in southern parts of their range, the female may have up to two successful broods. In September the Eastern Meadowlark migrates a relatively short distance to winter grounds where it congregates in groups of up to 200 individuals.
The Eastern Meadowlark is vulnerable to a wide range of predators including raptors, foxes, raccoons, feral cats, coyotes, snakes, and other small mammals.
The Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) looks quite similar, but primarily nests in Western Canada. The Western Meadowlark has a different song and call, and the bright yellow extends to their lower cheek. Stripping patterns on the head differ, but the similarity between the two species makes accurate surveying quite challenging in places where their ranges overlap.
Conservation and recovery strategies:
The provincial recovery strategy for Eastern Meadowlark is a joint report with the Bobolink recovery strategy since these two grassland species share similar habitats, ranges, and threats within Ontario. In the short term, the provincial goal is to reduce the rate of decline of breeding populations of Eastern Meadowlark, and in the long-term, the goal is to sustain populations of Eastern Meadowlark at 90% of their current size.
The recovery of this species will strongly rely on actions taken by communities of farmers and companies who own and operate agricultural fields. A Bobolink and Eastern Meadowlark Roundtable was created in 2011 to allow open discussions and generate conservation ideas, but full implementation of the Endangered Species Act has been deferred to avoid crippling the agricultural industry.
The Eastern Meadowlark has responded well to grassland restoration projects following mine closures, and re-purposing poor-quality agricultural fields. There have also been successful initiatives to restore regular controlled burns for every 2-4 years in some areas of their range.
COSEWIC. 2011. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the Eastern Meadowlark Sturnella magna in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. x + 40 pp. (www.sararegistry.gc.ca/status/status_e.cfm).
McCracken, J.D., R.A. Reid, R.B. Renfrew, B. Frei, J.V. Jalava, A. Cowie, and A.R. Couturier. 2013. Recovery Strategy for the Bobolink (Dolichonyx oryzivorus) and Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna) in Ontario. Ontario Recovery Strategy Series. Prepared for the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, Peterborough, Ontario. viii + 88 pp.
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