Eastern Meadowlark

Sturnella magna
Range Map

The Eastern and Western Meadowlarks look nearly identical to each other, but their songs are very different. Studies show that even where the ranges of these two species overlap, they battle for territorial rights and do not hybridize. Most of the population of Eastern Meadowlarks doesn’t migrate, and in the USA they remain on territory from Texas to Florida and north to the Great Lakes and upper New England. Some of these birds will nest in summer as far north as southeastern Canada.

To my ear, the songs of the Eastern Meadowlark are softer and gentler than the Western Meadowlark, whose calls and songs I’m more familiar with. To the eye they are very similar, but their flanks differ. The eastern bird’s side bars are more solid, while the western bird’s bars are more like dotted lines. Though these field marks may be variable and difficult to see in the field.

Science has described sixteen subspecies of Eastern Meadowlarks in four groups:

  • Eastern Group
    • S. m. magna breeds from southwestern South Dakota east to central Nova Scotia and in former times in northeastern Colorado, and from central Oklahoma east to North Carolina. Birds in the northern parts of the range migrate south in winter to locations such as south Texas, the Gulf Coast, and South Carolina.
    • S. m. argutula lives from southeastern Kansas to North Carolina and south from eastern Texas to southern Florida.
    • S. m. hippocrepis lives in Cuba.
  • Gulf Coast Group
    • S. m. hoopesi lives from southern Texas south to northeastern Mexico.
    • S. m. mexicana lives along the Atlantic coastal lowlands of Mexico from Veracruz south and east to Tabasco, Chiapas, the base of the Yucatán peninsula, through Guatemala and Belize.
    • S. m. griscomi lives on the northern Yucatan Peninsula.
    • S. m. inexspectata lives in Central America’s Atlantic slope from Honduras to Nicaragua.
    • S. m. subulata lives on the Pacific slope of Panama.
  • Southwestern Group
    • S. m. lilianae named the Lillian’s Meadowlark lives in the desert grasslands of northwestern and central Arizona east to southern New Mexico and western Texas south at least to Sonora and Chihuahua (Mexico).
    • S. m. auropectoralis lives from southern Sinaloa, and coastal Nayarit, south to Durango across Trans-Volcanic Belt (Mexico).
    • S. m. saundersi lives in the Pacific lowlands of southeastern Oaxaca (Mexico).
    • S. m. alticola lives in the highlands from southern Mexico to Costa Rica.
  • South American Group
    • S. m. meridionalis lives in the Eastern Andes of Colombia and northwestern Venezuela.
    • S. m. paralios lives in Colombia and south to the base of Eastern Andes and Venezuela.
    • S. m. praticola lives in eastern Colombia, east to Venezuela and Guyana to highlands of Bolívar.
    • S. m. quinta lives in Suriname and northeastern Brazil.

I first met the Eastern Meadowlark in May 2020, between the city of Brownsville (Texas) and Boca Chica Beach while I was visiting the Palmito Hill battle site, where the last battle of the Civil War took place more than a month after the official end of the war.

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