Western Meadowlark

Sturnella neglecta
Range Map

The Western Meadowlark is not a true lark, but more closely related to orioles and new world blackbirds. They range over most of North America west of the Mississippi River Valley. We usually find them in open grasslands, prairies, meadows and agricultural fields, where their songs echo in clear warbling tones that meet our ears.

I find the songs of Western Meadowlarks have an other-worldly quality that’s difficult to describe. It begins with a warbling yodel of high notes, then transcends in a ballet of crisp notes before ending in a low gurgle. Their songs conjure up memories from my earliest childhood on my grandparent’s ranch.

The Western Meadowlark has an eastern cousin (Eastern Meadowlark), and where their territories overlap, interbreeding occurs only rarely. The songs of the eastern bird (to my ear) are softer and gentler than the western birds, whose calls and songs I’m more familiar with. To the eye they are very similar, but where the darker striped, or checked markers extend over their flanks, the base color of the western bird is a creamy white, while in the eastern bird it is the same yellow color as the belly.

Science recognises two subspecies of Western Meadowlark:

  • S. n. confluenta lives in southwestern and central British Columbia to western Idaho and south to southern California.
  • S. n. neglecta lives from southeastern British Columbia to northern Baja California (Mexico), and east to Texas and the Gulf States.

The Latin name Sturnella roughly translates to little starling, and the neglecta name is a term used by J. Audubon as a reference describing how this bird was overlooked (neglected) and misidentified and dismissed as the better known Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna).

I’ve enjoyed the company of Western Meadowlarks in many California locations, and at several places in Utah and New Mexico. While I visited Texas in 2021, I met them in Big Bend National Park and also Bentsen Rio Grande Valley State in Mission. In 2022, while in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan during an expedition spanning over 15,000 miles of North America, I found them in Grasslands National Park.

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