The Eastern Meadowlark is found in the eastern United States and adjacent Canada south through Mexico (except for Baja California and northwestern Mexico) to central Panama and in South America from northern and eastern Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, and Surinam south, east of the Andes, to Amazonian Brazil. Except in the most northern part of the range, Eastern Meadowlarks are year-round residents. The Eastern Meadowlark is a bird of open fields and pastures, meadows, and prairies and populations in the eastern United States have declined in recent decades as acreage of these habitats has declined.
The diet of the Eastern Meadowlark consists mainly of insects and seeds.
The male Eastern Meadowlark defends his territory by singing, often from a fencepost or other raised perch. 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, and flicks his wings, sometimes even jumping into the air. 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 5 (sometimes as many as 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 around 11 to 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 Eastern Meadowlark is extremely similar to the Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) 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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