The Western Meadowlark is an abundant and familiar bird of open country found across the western two-thirds of North America, and is a very rare, but regular winter visitor in West Tennessee. This species usually mixes with the much more abundant, and nearly identical, Eastern Meadowlark. The more melodic song of the Western Meadowlark is not often heard during the non-breeding season, but both species have been known to sing each other's song.
Description: Like the Eastern Meadowlark, the Western Meadowlark is a stocky, robin-sized songbird with a brown streaked back, and a brilliant yellow breast with a prominent black "V." The tail is brown with white outer tail feathers, and the bill is long and pointed. During the non-breeding season (September-January) the plumage is overall duller, with thinner black barring on the wings and tail feathers, whitish flanks, and a less contrasting head pattern. In breeding plumage (February-August) the mustache stripe beside the yellow throat is mostly yellow, not white.
Weight: 3.4 oz.
Voice: The song is a rich, low, descending warble, with well-spaced clear notes to start, and a rapid gurgle at the end.
- Eastern Meadowlark is extremely similar, but somewhat darker, with thicker black barring on the wings and tail feathers, and mostly white mustache stripe beside the yellow throat in breeding plumage. Songs and calls are different, with the song of the Eastern being simpler and less musical.
Habitat: Found in agricultural, grassy, or fallow fields, and along roadsides near the Mississippi River.
Diet: Insects, grain, and weed seeds.
Nesting and reproduction: There is one nesting record for the Western Meadowlark in Tennessee from 1951, when a nest with two adult and six young was found at the Penal Farm in Shelby County.
Status in Tennessee: Rare, but regular, winter resident found in agricultural fields in West Tennessee, and can occasionally be found in flocks of up to a dozen individuals. Arrives by late October and usually departs by early May.
Dynamic map of Western Meadowlark eBird observations in Tennessee
- John James Audubon named the Western Meadowlark Sturnella neglecta in 1844 because so little attention had been given to this species. A debate over its relationship to the Eastern Meadowlark lasted over a century.
- While Eastern and Western Meadowlarks look nearly identical, the two species only rarely hybridize; mixed pairs occasionally occur at the edge of their ranges. Captive breeding experiments found that hybrid meadowlarks were fertile, but produced few viable eggs.
Best places to see in Tennessee: Reelfoot Lake, Black Bayou
Lanyon, W. E. 1994. Western Meadowlark (Sturnella neglecta). The Birds of North America, No. 104. (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, PA, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.
Robinson J. C. 1990. An Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Tennessee. Univ. Tennessee Press, Knoxville.
Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.
Consider using the online bird checklist program at eBird to help us understand bird populations and distributions in Tennessee. Click here to see how.