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Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark
Sturnella magna

The clear, plaintive, sliding song of the Eastern Meadowlark is a welcomed sign of spring. With a bold black "V" in the middle of its bright yellow breast, and habit of singing from fence posts and powerlines, this is a familiar year-round resident of the farmlands and open country of Tennessee. The breeding range includes Eastern and Central North America, parts of the southwestern states and parts of Mexico, to northern South America, and the Caribbean. Eastern Meadowlarks are mostly non-migratory, with only the northernmost individuals migrating south in the non-breeding season.

Description: The Eastern 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. The male and female look alike. During the non-breeding season (September-January) the plumage is overall duller, with buffy flanks.

Length: 9.5"
Wingspan: 14"
Weight: 3.2 oz

Voice: The song is a slurred musical phrase, described as sounding like spring of the year or see-you-see-yeeer. Call notes are often given in a series, especially in flight, and are loud raspy chatters.

Similar Species:

  • Western Meadowlarks winter in small numbers in far western Tennessee and are very similar in appearance. However, Western Meadowlarks are paler, with thinner black barring on the wings and tail feathers, and in breeding plumage, have a mostly yellow, not white, mustache stripe beside the yellow throat. The song and calls are different, with the song of the Western Meadowlark being more complex and musical.

Habitat: Eastern Meadowlarks prefer native grasslands and open savannas, but are also found in many human-altered grassy habitats.

Diet: Insects, especially grasshoppers and crickets, as well as insect larvae and grubs.

Nesting and reproduction: Male Eastern Meadowlarks are usually polygynous, with two or rarely three females nesting within the male's territory. A female will often raise two broods in a season.

Clutch Size: Ranges from 3 to 6 eggs, with 5 egg clutches most common.

Incubation: The female incubates the eggs for about 14 days.

Fledging: Both adults feed the nestlings, which fledge in 11 to 12 days.

Nest: The female alone builds the nest on the ground in a shallow depression of a pasture, meadow, or hayfield. It is well hidden in thick vegetation and constructed of grasses, and often has an arch or a roof, and a runway leading to the opening.

Status in Tennessee: The Eastern Meadowlark is a common year round resident statewide. In winter it often gathers in loose flocks of 25 to 50 individuals in prime feeding areas. The species is declining in Tennessee, as well as rangewide, because of changes in land use and human encroachment.

Dynamic map of Eastern Meadowlark eBird observations in Tennessee

Fun Facts:

  • The Eastern Meadowlark is related to blackbirds and orioles, not larks.
  • Eastern Meadowlark will occasionally sing at night, especially when the moon is bright.
  • The Eastern Meadowlark was first described by Carolus Linnaeus in 1758, but was mistakenly labeled as being found in "America, Africa." He likely made this mistake because of the remarkable resemblance with the Cape and Yellow-throated Longclaws found in Africa. These birds share similar habitat types, but are totally unrelated. The adaptive significance of this yellow breast pattern is unknown, and may simply be a striking example of convergent evolution. Linnaeus later corrected his mistake.

Obsolete English Names: eastern lark, meadow starling

Best places to see in Tennessee: Eastern Meadowlarks should be easy to find in farmland across the state, especially in spring and summer when they sing from fence posts and powerlines.

For more information:

University of Michigan Museum of Zoology

National Audubon Society species information


Lanyon, W. E. 1995. Eastern Meadowlark (Sturnella magna), The Birds of North America, No. 160 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, and The American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.

Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of TN 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.

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