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Eastern Meadowlark

The Eastern Meadowlark, Sturnella magna, is a medium-sized icterid bird, very similar in appearance to the Western Meadowlark. It occurs from eastern North America to South America, where it is also most widespread in the east.


Adults have yellow underparts with a black "V" on the breast and white flanks with black streaks. The upperparts are mainly brown with black streaks. They have a long pointed bill; the head is striped with light brown and black.

The song of this bird is of pure, melancholy whistles, and thus simpler that the jumbled and flutey song of the Western Meadowlark; their ranges overlap across central North America. In the field, the song is often the easiest way to tell the two species apart, though plumage differences do exist, like tail pattern and malar coloration.

The pale Lilian's Meadowlark of northern Mexico and the southwestern US is sometimes split off as a separate species.


This species was first described by Linnaeus in his 1758 Systema naturae as Alauda magna"[Alauda] subtus flava, fascia pectorali curva nigra : rectricibus tribus lateralibus albis. [...] Corpus scolopacinum, magnitudine Turdi, totum subtus flavissimum. Pectus macula magna nigricante lunari. Remiges fuscae: secundariae testaceo maculataa. Cauda rotundata: Rectrices 3 laterales maximum partam albae. Unguis posticus pedum major, sed magis curvus quam in reliquis. Rostrum rectum: Maxilla superior teretiuscula, basi nuda." (Linnaeus 1758). The type locality is mistakenly given as "America, Africa"

Linnaeus' error is explained by two facts: first, he did not distinguish between the Eastern and Western meadowlarks. The peculiar belief that this bird also occurred in Africa is due to confusion of the yellow-breasted meadowlarks with certain longclaws (Macronyx), quite unrelated African songbirds. Specifically the Cape Longclaw (M. capensis) and the Yellow-throated Longclaw (M. croceus) share similar habitat and habits, explaining the long hind toe; their plumage pattern however is all but identical, a striking example of convergent evolution. As this exact pattern provides no obvious adaptive benefit compared to that of other meadowlarks and longspurs, it seems to have arisen twice by sheer chance.

Linnaeus recognized his error less than a decade later, separating the longclaws from their meadowlark look-alikes.

The scientific name Sturnella magna is Latin for, rather confusingly, "large little starling", the generic name having being given due to the meadowlarks' behavior being similar to starlings.


Their breeding habitat is grasslands and prairie, also pastures and hay fields. This species is a permanent resident throughout much of its range, though most northern birds migrate southwards in winter. In Central and South America, they tend to be limited to the eastern (Atlantic) side of the continent also. In 1993 this species was first recorded in El Salvador however, and the discovery of a breeding pair in 2004 confirms that the species is a resident thereHerrera et al. (2006).

These birds forage on the ground or in low vegetation, sometimes probing with its bill. They mainly eat arthropods, but also seeds and berries. In winter, they often feed in flocks.

Nesting occurs throughout the summer months. The nest is also on the ground, covered with a roof woven from grasses. There may be more than one nesting female in a male's territory.

The numbers of this species increased as forests were cleared in eastern North America; their numbers are now shrinking with a decline in suitable habitat. On the other hand, its range is expanding in parts of Central America towards to Pacific (western) side of the continent.


Database entry includes justification for why this species is of least concern

(1906): A preliminary list of the birds of Seneca County, Ohio. Wilson Bull. 18(2): 47-60. DjVu fulltext PDF fulltext

(2006): Nuevos registros para la avifauna de El Salvador. ["New records for the avifauna of El Salvador"]. Boletin de la Sociedad Antioquena de Ornitologia 16(2): 1-19. [Spanish with English abstract] PDF fulltext

(1758): 93.9. Alauda magna. In: Systema naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis : 167. Laurentius Salvius, Holmius (= Stockholm). PDF fulltext

External links

Eastern Meadowlark videos, photos & sounds on the Internet Bird Collection

Eastern Meadowlark Information - South Dakota Birds and Birding

Eastern Meadowlark Bird Sound

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Eastern Meadowlark

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