Eastern Meadowlark

Sturnella Magna

Last updated: October 12, 2022
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
Image Credit iStock.com/Carol Hamilton

They can live up to 9 years.

Eastern Meadowlark Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Aves
Order
Passeriformes
Family
Icteridae
Genus
Sturnella
Scientific Name
Sturnella Magna

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Eastern Meadowlark Conservation Status

Eastern Meadowlark Locations

Eastern Meadowlark Locations

Eastern Meadowlark Facts

Prey
Caterpillar, grasshopper, cutworm, and beetle.
Fun Fact
They can live up to 9 years.
Estimated Population Size
37 million
Biggest Threat
Habitat loss
Most Distinctive Feature
Black V-shaped breast band
Distinctive Feature
Yellow belly
Other Name(s)
Sturnella Magna
Wingspan
13.78 to 15.75 inches
Incubation Period
13 to 14 days
Age Of Independence
25 to 26 days
Litter Size
Three to seven eggs
Habitat
Prairies, meadows, fields, and grasslands.
Predators
Hawks, falcons, owls, skunks, foxes, and coyotes.
Diet
Omnivore
Common Name
Eastern Meadowlark
Number Of Species
17
Location
The United States of America, Canada, México, Central America, and South America
Average Clutch Size
5
Nesting Location
On the ground
Migratory
1

Eastern Meadowlark Physical Characteristics

Skin Type
Feathers
Top Speed
24 mph
Length
Females range from 7.48 to 9.06 inches in length, while males range from 8.27 to 10.24 inches in length

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View all of the Eastern Meadowlark images!



Summary

The Eastern Meadowlark’s bright yellow underbelly makes it easy to spot, especially in places like the United States, México, Venezuela, and throughout Central America. Residing in open prairies and pastures, it’s no wonder why “meadow” is a fixture of their name. They can lay anywhere from three to seven eggs at a time, which are covered in purple and brown spots. Watch your step because these eggs are nested on the ground, surrounded by grass, and, occasionally, covered with a grass-stem roof.

Amazing Eastern Meadowlark Facts

  • Meriwether Lewis, famous for the Lewis and Clark Expedition to the Pacific Northwest, was the first person to distinguish between the Eastern Meadowlark and the Western Meadowlark.
  • Eastern Meadowlarks engage in gaping, sticking their bills into the ground to encounter insects to eat.
  • With more than 100 unique songs, Eastern Meadowlark males aim to protect their territory and attract mates.
  • There are about 16 to 17 different subspecies of this bird.

Where to Find Eastern Meadowlarks

Eastern Meadowlarks can be found in the eastern U.S. in states like Illinois, Kentucky, or Arkansas, to name a few. They also make their home in Central and South America, México, and islands in the Caribbean. The first trick to locating these birds: be on watch for its’ bright yellow belly but be aware; their colors fade in the winter. The best time to find an Eastern Meadowlark is in the late spring and summer, when its colors are brightest, and males are looking to mate. Looking for one atop fence posts or telephone poles in wide-open spaces is another great strategy for finding an Eastern Meadowlark. Searching the ground might work, too, as they search for beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, and seeds to eat in the soil.

Eastern Meadowlark Nests

Females make a small bowl-shaped crater in the ground for their nests. Nests are made of grass stems with trails surrounding them. To protect the eggs, grass stem roofs can be added by the females.

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Eastern Meadowlark Scientific Name

The scientific name of the Eastern Meadowlark is Sturnella magna, which comes from the Latin word “sturnus,” meaning starling. In Spanish-speaking regions, it might be referred to by its common name, Pradero tortilla-con-chile. They belong to the Icteridae, or New World blackbirds, family and the Aves class.

Size, Appearance, and Behavior

Eastern Meadowlarks are medium-sized and have short tails but long toes and legs. Their bills are long but slim and a light gray color. Male Eastern Meadowlarks have both light and dark brown streaks on their tails and wings. Their chins are yellow and adorned with a white stripe that looks like a mustache. Their heads are gray with a dark brown or black stripe running from their beak up through their yellow eyebrow and to the back of their head. They have a V-shaped black breast “bib” that surrounds their neck and divides the head from the torso. The Eastern Meadowlark’s belly is yellow, which fades to an ivory-white in their underparts. Females have a similar appearance, but their V-shaped “bib” is thinner than the males’, and they are, overall, paler and smaller.

Meadowlark perched on a fence post
Eastern meadowlarks have short tails and long legs.

iStock.com/Norman Bateman

Eastern Meadowlark Size

Females range from 7.48 to 9.06 inches in length, while males range from 8.27 to 10.24 inches in length. These birds can weigh between 1/5 and 1/3 of a pound. Their wingspan can be as little as 13.78 inches or up to 15.75 inches.

Eastern Meadowlark Behavior

These birds’ songs are various and unique. Some important songs to note are the whistle, primary song, flight song, and female song. The whistle is used by them to express excitement. For example, an Eastern Meadowlark might whistle if a predator is near or if they are about to mate with the opposite sex. After mating, females will chatter in response to the male’s song. Young birds of this species use basic high-pitched calls to alert their parents of their location so that the parents can feed them. An Eastern Meadowlark might chase another in flight in hopes to mate with them. When one male encroaches on another male’s territory, the defending male might engage in a jump-flight to send away the opposing male. The defending male might also flash his tail or wings or tilt his bill to protect his territory. Another mean of protection is expansion posturing, where an Eastern Meadowlark will draw out its’ contour feathers while drawing the head into its’ body; it will spread the tail as well. If the opposing male persists after such protective measures, the female will gape at the male with its bill and draw its’ feathers close to the body.

Eastern Meadowlark Diet

The diet of an Eastern Meadowlark varies from season to season. While they prefer grasshoppers and beetles in the summer, they look for caterpillars and cutworms in the spring. As insects are less available in the winter, Eastern Meadowlarks eat seeds and waste grains during this season, and they eat fruits on occasion.

Eastern Meadowlark Predators

Falcons and hawks eat Eastern Meadowlarks, and, during their breeding season, owls prey on them. Owls with offspring hunt during daylight hours for the Eastern Meadowlark so that they can bring food back to their young. Luckily, the Eastern Meadowlark’s appearance–brown and gray-striped wings and tails–can help them camouflage into their surroundings to avoid their predators. Eggs of the Eastern Meadowlark are preyed on by skunks, coyotes, and foxes. Their nests are threatened by cows, whose grazing can overturn and destroy nests and the eggs within them.

Threats to Eastern Meadowlarks

Eastern Meadowlark nests are threatened by predation and Cowbird nest parasitism, where female Cowbirds will replace and damage Eastern Meadowlark eggs with their own in a nest. These challenges for the Eastern Meadowlark lead to fewer offspring and threaten the growth rate of the species. Other threats to Eastern Meadowlarks like pesticides, habitat loss, and even anthropogenic behavior, such as tilling and mowing, has led to population decrease. Human interactions with Eastern Meadowlarks can leave them feeling threatened, and they might abandon their nests in response. Climate change also affects Eastern Meadowlarks as increase in droughts, blizzards, and forest fires endanger the areas they call home.

Conservation Status

Eastern Meadowlark conservation status is near threatened, and their numbers are declining. There have been many efforts to maintain the Eastern Meadowlark population and the populations of other birds like it. For instance, destruction of eggs and nests of the Eastern Meadowlark and other bird species is illegal in the United States, and emphasis of maintenance of roadside vegetation is a key factor in increasing the Eastern Meadowlark population.

Reproduction, Young, and Molting

Breeding for the Eastern Meadowlark occurs between May and August. A female lay anywhere between three and seven eggs at one time and between six and 14 eggs in a season. The eggs have an incubation time of 13 to 15 days. After approximately 11 to 12 days, hatchlings will leave the nest as juveniles, but the parents will continue to look after them for two more weeks to ensure their safety. After one year, Eastern Meadowlarks will be ready to mate and are expected to live between three and nine years.

Population

There are approximately 37 million Eastern Meadowlarks throughout the world. About 250,000 Eastern Meadowlarks live in Canada with over 60% in the United States and the remainder in México and Latin and South America. In the past 50 years, Eastern Meadowlark populations have declined by 71%, which is mainly due to habitat loss by agricultural practices, making their conservation status go from least concern to near threatened.

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About the Author

I'm Ellie, and I am a full-time college student at Miami University. I enjoy writing, copy editing, and being involved in journalism. I write for The Miami Student newspaper as an opinion columnist. My favorite animals are fish, rabbits, and cats.

Eastern Meadowlark FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Does the Eastern Meadowlark migrate?

Yes, typically the Eastern Meadowlark migrates short distances, but northern meadowlarks might migrate several hundred miles south for the winter.

How many eggs does the Eastern Meadowlark lay?

Females can lay between six and 14 eggs during breeding season.

How fast does the Eastern Meadowlark fly?

They can fly up to 24.85 miles per hour.

What is the Eastern Meadowlark’s wingspan?

Their wingspan measures anywhere from 13.78 to 15.75 inches.

When do Eastern Meadowlarks leave their nest?

About 11 to 12 days after hatching, juvenile Eastern Meadowlarks leave their nest.

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Sources
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  3. , Available here: https://study.com/academy/lesson/meadowlark-facts-lesson-for-kids.html?src=ppc_adwords_nonbrand&rcntxt=aws&crt=617669677191&kwd=&kwid=dsa-1253079156202&agid=125582019081&mt=&device=c&network=s&_campaign=SeoPPC&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI8rqh27i9-gIVe_rjBx2t3w5DEAAYASAAEgL7svD_BwE
  4. , Available here: https://www.sararegistry.gc.ca/virtual_sara/files/cosewic/sr_eastern_meadowlark_0911_eng.pdf
  5. , Available here: https://kidadl.com/facts/animals/eastern-meadowlark-facts#:~:text=Eastern%20meadowlarks%20fly%20is%20recorded,speed%20as%20per%20the%20need.

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