From Prairie to License Plate: Photographing the Eastern Meadowlark

By Alan Murphy, Alan Murphy Photography

Every April for the past twenty-five years, I photograph bird migration on the Upper Texas Coast. When I arrive on the coast and drive the back roads looking for birds, the first sounds I always hear is the loud, flutelike song of the Eastern Meadowlark. Although they nest on the ground and spend a lot of time feeding in fields of grass, they like to be perched up high when they sing.

Most images of Meadowlarks are on telephone wires or fence posts, as these are usually the only perches in their habitat. As I don’t like the hand-of-man in my images, this creates a problem if I want a beautiful image of the bird on a natural perch.

As a full-time professional bird photographer, I started leading Songbird Migration workshops 15 years ago on Galveston Island. One of the things I do in preparation for the workshops is drive around and find active territories of the Meadowlarks. Once I find a field or grassland where they are singing, I place a small stake flag, so I know where to return to with my clients. I also place small attractive stumps in the field, so the Meadowlarks have somewhere to perch. It only takes a couple of hours for the birds to start using the introduced perch.

Once the workshop starts, I take my clients to the flagged location to find a beautiful Eastern Meadowlark with its chunky body and a bold black V across its yellow breast sitting on my new perch singing his head off. Meadowlarks are quite tame and will allow us to set up our camera gear and spend a wonderful couple of hours photographing them in the early morning light.

The Eastern Meadowlark is not actually a Lark, but a member of the Blackbird family (Icteridae). It’s one bird that I will always be grateful for as the Meadowlarks song launches my month-long visit to the Texas Coast.

Click here if you would like to see more of my Meadowlark images.

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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.

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