Beak of the Week – Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna)

Family: Icteridae

The Eastern Meadowlark’s bright song is a familiar sound throughout open grasslands of eastern North America. They are commonly seen singing from fence posts, telephone wires, and shrubs. Eastern Meadowlarks can easily be identified by their brilliant yellow chests and dark v-shaped collar. These colors are slightly duller in the winter yet still distinguishable. They have heavy brown and black streaking on their backs, a long, sharp bill and, a white mustache. Aside from differences in song, this mustache coloration helps to differentiate the Eastern species from the similar Western Meadowlark species, as they have a yellow mustache. 

Eastern Meadowlarks forage for food by walking on the ground through grass while probing for an assortment of insects including grubs, grasshoppers, caterpillars, and crickets. They also feed on seeds during the winter and spring months if insects are more scarce. 

When it is time to breed, female Eastern Meadowlarks intricately swirl and weave dead grasses together to form a nest hidden on the ground within dense vegetation. These well thought out nests often have tunnel systems to help conceal both the mother and the chicks as they come and go. The males will often have two mates at a time and will defend their nesting territory by singing from an elevated perch. 

Disappearing prairie and grassland habitats have led to a noticeable decline in the Eastern Meadowlark population. In 2014, they were listed as a “Common Bird in Steep Decline.” Eastern Meadowlarks are still frequently seen and heard in the tall grasses of the Bolivar Flats Shorebird Sanctuary though so be sure to take a look into the marsh next time you visit!

✏️ By Maria Hart, Conservation Technician, Houston Audubon

Greg Lavaty
Greg Lavaty

Show your plumage! Purchase our brand new conservation license plate and support Houston Audubon’s mission of bird conservation. The featured Eastern Meadowlark, an iconic prairie species commonly found throughout Texas, was chosen by a committee of bird enthusiasts because of its need for conservation action due to declining habitat. The license plate, sponsored by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, is available for purchase through the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. $22 of the annual $30 plate fee collected comes to Houston Audubon.

Order your plate »

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