An Imperial Beach Hidden Gem and Bird of the Week, the Western Meadowlark
May 17, 2017 10:03PM
By Paul Spear
Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta)
This week’s “Bird of the Week” is the Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta) is a medium-sized icteridbird, about 8.5 in (22 cm) in length. Western meadowlark adults have yellow underparts with a black "V" on the breast and white flanks streaked with black. Their upper parts are mostly brown, but also have black streaks. These birds have long, pointed bills and their heads are striped with light brown and black bands.
They nest on the ground in open grasslands across western and central North America.
Remarkably similar to the Eastern Meadowlark in colors and pattern, this bird is recognized by
its very different song and call notes. The two species of meadowlarks evidently can easily recognize their own kind the same way; even where their ranges overlap in the Midwest and Southwest, they almost never interbreed. However, the two species do seem to see each other as potential rivals, and they actively defend territories against each other.
Western Meadowlarks are still widespread and common, but surveys indicate their ongoing population has declined in recent decades.
Habitat is in grasslands, cultivated fields and pastures, meadows, and prairies. They breed mostly in natural grasslands, abandoned weedy fields, rangeland, and also sometimes on cultivated land. In the Midwest, they seem to prefer shorter grass and drier fields than the sites chosen by the Eastern Meadowlark. In winter, they are often found in stubble fields and other farmland.
Western Meadowlarks forage by walking on the ground, taking insects and seeds from the ground and from low plants. They often probe in the soil with its bill. In winter, they usually forage in flocks.
Diet is mostly insects and seeds. The majority of its diet consists of insects, especially in summer, when it eats many beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, caterpillars, ants, true bugs, and others; including spiders, snails, and sowbugs. Seeds and waste grain make up about one-third of their annual diet, and are eaten especially in the fall and winter.
After mating, females lay 3-7, usually about 5, white, heavily spotted with brown and purple, especially at larger end eggs. Incubation is by females, in about 13-15 days. Both parents feed nestlings, but females do more. Young leave the nest after about 12 days, before they are able to fly, and are tended by parents for at least another 2 weeks. Western Meadowlarks yield 2 broods per year.
Males sing to defend nesting territory. One male may have more than one mate. In courtship,
males face females, puffing out their chest feathers and pointing their bills straight up to show off a black "V," spread tails widely, and flick their wings. Nests are placed on the ground, in areas with dense cover of grass, or in a small hollow or depression in the ground. Nests, built by females, are a domed structure with the entrance on the side, made of grass stems interwoven with the surrounding growth. There are usually narrow trails or "runways" leading to the nest through the grass.
I have seen quite a few Western Meadowlarks in our own Tijuana Estuary along the trail next to the helicopter field and near the two ponds trail. They are colorful and easy to spot. Look for them as well as the many other species of birds there. Until next week, happy birding!
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